Flint welcomes home Olympic champ Claressa Shields - WNEM TV 5

Flint welcomes home Olympic champ Claressa Shields

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Claressa Shields Claressa Shields
A gold medal from the 2012 Olympics A gold medal from the 2012 Olympics
GENESEE COUNTY, MI (WNEM/AP) -

Flint's 17-year-old Olympic boxing champion has returned home, greeted by family, friends and excited fans.

Gold medal-winner Claressa Shields landed at Bishop International Airport about 5:30 p.m. Monday, ahead of her expected arrival thanks to airlines that held a connecting flight so she could make it.

Shields was the only U.S. fighter to win a gold in the first-ever women's boxing competition at the London Olympics.

TV5's Jonathan Lowe had a chance to talk with the budding star -- watch his interview from the airport concourse above.

Katie Taylor collapsed to her knees after winning the ninth gold medal in Ireland's Olympic history, and the ecstatic crowd seemed to raise the lightweight boxer back up with its roars.

Blinking back tears, Taylor wrapped a green, white and orange flag around her shoulders and later took a slow walk through the overjoyed masses.

The scene was stirring, even breathtaking. What could anybody possibly do to top this Irish celebration?

Oh, Claressa Shields had a few ideas.

With one more dynamic victory to close the first Olympic women's boxing tournament, the U.S. middleweight showed that while Taylor is the current pound-for-pound champion of this sport, Shields is the future.

The ebullient 17-year-old from Flint, easily dispatched the world's best fighters in her weight class, capped by a 19-12 victory over Russia's Nadezda Torlopova on Thursday.

Shields danced, brawled and even stuck out her tongue at her opponent, who is nearly twice her age and about half her speed.

Taylor was named the Olympics' best women's boxer. British flyweight Nicola Adams also thrilled the home crowd with a gold-medal victory that was even more impressive, upsetting world champion Ren Cancan of China.

But Shields had enough talent and flair to draw a bit of attention away from the two local heroes - a feat as impressive as her win.

"This was something I wanted for a long time, even when boxing wasn't going all right, even when my life wasn't going all right," said Shields, who found sanctuary in a boxing gym during a rough childhood.

"All I wanted was a gold medal, and I kept working towards it, even when people were saying I couldn't do it. I'm too young. I couldn't do it. There were girls who were going to beat me because of better experience, more experience. I proved them all wrong."

Shields had her hand over her heart on the medal podium when she abruptly burst into laughter, her head snapping back almost as if she had just been punched in the face.

That's a feeling her opponents in the first Olympic women's boxing tournament know quite well.

Only they're not laughing.

"I'm surprised I didn't cry," Shields said. "I was sweating, though."

Fans will get a chance to welcome Shields home Monday at Bishop Airport, as her flight is expected to arrive in Genesee County at 5:30 p.m. It's unknown if a news conference scheduled for late this afternoon is also planned to take place at that time.

Adams, Taylor and Shields triumphed in rapid succession on the final day of the London Games' landmark tournament, claiming the first Olympic titles in a growing sport that was banned in Britain until 1996.

The five-day event with 36 fighters was one of London's biggest hits, adored by fans and praised for creating gender equality in the summer Olympic program. At minimum, AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo wants to double the number of women's boxers in Rio in 2016.

"It was fantastic," IOC President Jacques Rogge said. "I'm a very happy man. There has been some criticism of whether women should be boxing and of their level and technique. Today we have been vindicated."

Shields found her purpose with coach Jason Crutchfield at Berston Field House in Flint after her father - who spent seven years of Claressa's childhood in prison - infused her with a passion for boxing. Shields has turned into a polished athlete with a nasty streak in the ring - and she still has room to grow.

Shields capped her swift rise through the amateur ranks in the past two years with three strong performances in the London ring, providing USA Boxing with a much-needed boost. Shields won the 12-member American team's only gold medal in London, and flyweight Marlen Esparza took a bronze, but the winningest nation in Olympic boxing history got no medals from its men's team for the first time.

"I don't think anybody would feel bad about me representing them," Shields said. "I think I did a pretty good job."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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