LONDON — Claressa Shields ducked one punch, deftly leaned away from another, and stuck her tongue out at her Russian opponent. Just an American teenager having a little fun.
After all, Nadezda Torlopova is nearly twice Shields' age and about half her speed. And Shields had to laugh at any boxer trying to get between her and a historic Olympic gold medal.
The 17-year-old middleweight from Flint, Mich., beat Torlopova 19-12 on Thursday, capping her rapid ascent through women's boxing with a title in its Olympic debut.
"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 did it in style — shuffle-stepping, brawling and even winning over a crowd that showed up to cheer Irish lightweight Katie Taylor and British flyweight Nicola Adams, who also won gold medals.
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."
Shields, Taylor and Adams 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 was one of London's biggest hits. And even amid the sea of Irish fans cheering Taylor's every move, Shields was one of the breakout stars of the games. An ugly Olympics for the U.S. team ended with a performance worthy of Cassius Clay, Joe Frazier, Oscar De La Hoya and every American Olympic champion that came before Shields.
Shields capped her 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."
Most of the raucous crowd came to see Taylor, who won Ireland's first gold medal at these Olympics amid a patriotic fervor of Irish flags, songs and thousands of devoted fans who treat her as a sports icon at home.
Taylor's victory, a 10-8 win over Russia's Sofya Ochigava, was perhaps the least memorable part of the afternoon. She barely beat Ochigava in a defensive fight, relying on a 4-1 points swing in the third round after trailing midway through the bout.
Unlike most of Taylor's fights, the result still was in doubt when the judges' scores were announced. Taylor fell to her knees and looked skyward when her arm was raised, bringing an even louder roar from the fans, many of them in green face paint and elaborate Irish-themed costumes.
Taylor took a victory lap after the medal ceremony, trailing a green, white and orange Irish flag behind her.
"It's been the dream of my life," said Taylor, a four-time world champion. "The support was incredible."