The word trailblazer has become something of a cliché. But what else can you say about Nicola Adams — an athlete who won the first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s boxing at London 2012 before retaining her title at Rio 2016?
In fact, the journey to Olympic stardom began by accident for Great Britain’s Adams, who first stepped into a boxing club at 12 years old. Her mother had wanted to go to an aerobics class but couldn’t find a babysitter, so she took Adams and her younger brother down to the local gym. Her love for the sport was instant:
“The first time I ever went into a boxing gym, I just loved everything about it. The footwork, the movement, the punching — and particularly as well my hero Muhammed Ali,” said 37-year-old Adams.
From there she never looked back, rising from teenage bouts in working men’s clubs to become the first British woman to win a European boxing medal in 2007 and the first to win a world championship medal in 2008.
Having proved herself a formidable performer in the amateur ranks, Adams was rewarded with a place on the Great Britain team for London 2012.
The London Olympics were the first time that women’s boxing had been chosen as an Olympic sport. In front of her home crowd, underdog Adams beat three-time world champion Ren Cancan (CHN) in the final to win flyweight gold, putting her decorated rival on the canvas en route to a convincing 16-7 points victory.
“It was an unbelievable feeling – I was over the moon. It was a bit surreal as well, thinking that I’d just made history becoming the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal.”
After triumphing in London, her life changed dramatically. From being relatively unknown, Adams was suddenly a household name.
“I tried to go to the supermarket and I was just absolutely swamped by people. I had to leave my shopping, the security had to help me get out of the store. It was crazy.”
2016 Getty Images
At Rio 2016, Adams repeated her Olympic triumph, winning the flyweight title with a unanimous points victory over France's Sarah Ourahmoune. By doing so, she made history again, becoming the first ever British boxer — male or female — to retain the Olympic title. But winning the second time around proved to be a harder affair than her first victory:
“It’s very hard being the number one and having a huge target on your back. There was a lot more pressure on me. Everyone was expecting me to win the gold even before I’d even qualified. But I still managed to have fun in the end!”
Adams went on to have a stellar professional career, winning the WBO title and ending her journey with an unbeaten record (5-0-1) before retiring due to injury in November 2019.
But hanging up her gloves hasn’t dulled Adams’ enthusiasm for the sport of boxing. Now with Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, she's eagerly anticipating the upcoming Olympic Games:
“Everything’s exciting me about Tokyo 2020 — who’s going to be the next gold medal winner in the flyweight division, my old division,” said Adams. “Just being able to see all the other girls coming through. We’ve got a really good team, Team GB, and I’m just hoping that they all do well.”
With eight major world medals to her name, Adams has cemented her place in boxing’s pantheon of greats. Now, as a pioneer of the sport, she has this advice for boxers hoping to follow in her footsteps at Tokyo 2020:
“Keep the focus, listen to the coaches, don’t let the occasion get to you and just have fun. Enjoy it. It’s the Olympics!”