Queen Underwood is one of three Americans fighting for the first-ever Olympic gold medals in women's boxing. (Source: U.S. Embassy to England/YouTube)
(RNN) – Boxing. It may be the most misogynist of all sports.
The characteristics tied to the sport are some of the same tied to masculinity – toughness, strength, fortitude, forcefulness, violence. Purveyors of pugilism have invoked a "boys only" mantra for most of its centuries-long existence.
The barriers for women who wanted their time in the ring have been many, with amateur fights only gaining full legality in places like the U.S. and England in the 1990s. The trainers who will take a female boxer on are relatively few, and "respected" names in the business have gone on record again and again condemning the whole idea of it.
After all, girls can't really fight, right? See for yourself.
For the first time in Olympic history, women's boxing will be a competitive event. And three Americans who were unknowns in a fringe sport head to London, hoping to come home as champions.
2012 London Olympic Games: Women's boxing, begins 8:30 a.m. ET Aug. 5
Houston's Marlen Esparza, 22, represents the U.S. in the flyweight division. She is a six-time national champion in her weight class and has an amateur record of 69-2.
According to a profile in Vogue, Esparza began training when she was 11 years old. Her trainer, Rudy Silva, said he took her and a group of older boys and worked them as hard as he could, to get her to quit.
"They were getting tired, and she was constantly going and going, back and forth with the sprints," Silva told Vogue. "I thought, ‘This thing done backfired on me!'"
Claressa Shields, 17, is the youngest person to represent U.S. Boxing in 40 years. The Flint, MI, middleweight has never lost and is a two-time Junior Olympics national champion.
In a profile by The New Yorker, Shields, the daughter of a boxer, said she began training at 11 years old when her father lamented he would not have a son follow in his footsteps. So she told him that she could do it.
"He said, ‘H, no! Boxing is a man's sport,'" Shields told The New Yorker. "I just started crying. I didn't talk to him for two days. After he told me no, that kind of motivated me, really, just to prove him wrong."
Quanitta "Queen" Underwood is not only a national champion; she has become a champion for victims of sexual abuse. The U.S. lightweight contender from Seattle recounted the horrors she suffered as a child in an interview with The New York Times.
Underwood, 28, did not start to box until age 19 but has become a five-time national champion. She had to wait for weeks to learn if she would be added to the U.S. team after falling short of winning an automatic spot but found out in June she had secured an at-large berth.
"I now have the chance to write my own story, and my winning the gold medal is now going to be the headline," she told the Associated Press. "That's what I owe to everybody and to myself. I can't wait to get in the ring, I really can't. It is going to be way different this time."
Even though all three have their share of accolades on the national stage, it is not a sure bet they will bring home medals. Esparza noted international boxers have a different style than those in the U.S., and top national fighters – her included – have struggled with it.
She is ranked ninth in the world in her weight class and won a bronze medal at the 2006 world championships. Underwood also won bronze in 2010, and Shields has never competed internationally.
But the end result for these three flag bearers doesn't really matter. They have already battled against stigmas, prejudice and the narrow minded, in addition to the usual hardships of an Olympic athlete.
It may not have been a first-round knockout. But the decision in those fights has come in from the judges, and their hands have been raised.
Esparza, Shields, Underwood and all the other groundbreakers at the Olympics are winners before they even lace up their gloves.
Other events to watch:
Track and Field: Men's 100m, begins 5 a.m. ET Aug. 4
The country of Jamaica hopes to see one of its sons maintain the title of "fastest man in the world."
Usain Bolt became a worldwide celebrity after bringing home three gold medals (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay) in 2008. He returns as one of the favorites in London, along with fellow Jamaicans Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell.
However, Americans Justin Gatlin (2004 gold medalist) and Tyson Gay (2007 world champion) could each steal one of the spots on the medal podium.
Jordyn Wieber, 17, and Gabby Douglas, 16, will compete against each other for the individual all-around gold.
Then they will work together to try and bring home the first U.S. team event gold since 1996.
Many viewed Wieber as the favorite in the all-around competition after she won gold at the 2011 world championship, but Douglas, aka "the Flying Squirrel," pulled off the upset by winning the U.S. trials.
Shooting: Women's 10m air rifle, begins 3:15 a.m. ET Saturday
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The 2012 Olympic games in London are fast approaching and Team USA is ready to showcase their best. Keep an eye on these athletes as they represent the red, white and blue on an international stage.More >
The 2012 Olympic Games in London are fast approaching and Team USA is ready to showcase their best. Keep an eye on these athletes as they represent the red, white and blue on an international stage.More >