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Claressa Shields back in Flint, shares victory message

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint  — Stepping up to a podium with a “Just a kid from Flint” banner at her side, Claressa Shields, a Flint native and now two-time Olympic boxing champion, rose to the stage among cheers of “USA! USA! USA!”

After flying to Bishop International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, Shields shouted back at the crowd: “When I say ‘two-time,’ you say, champ!” Obliging to a roar across the terminal, the crowd followed suit.

“Two-time!” ...

“Champ!”

“I’m just so thankful,” said Shields, telling of her journey to Rio de Janeiro.

“I moved out of Flint to Colorado Springs, and I haven’t seen my mom in three months,” her voice beginning to crack. “I just remember thinking I wanted to knock her out for y’all, I tried, I tried so hard to knock her out for you.”

The 21-year-old Shields won her second Olympic gold medal on Sunday against Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands in the woman’s middleweight division (75 kilogram). It came four years after she won in London at age 17, becoming the youngest American boxer since 1924 to win gold.

Niyo: Flint's Shields golden again at Olympics

Regaining composure on Tuesday, the boxing champ thanked her fans for her support — asking aloud: “Was the road to the 2016 Olympics hard? Well, the fights weren’t,” said Shields, winking to her fans. “But just the journey of doing it by myself in the dark, in the gym. All the times I had to push myself, and a lot of times I had to talk to God about everything that I had going on.”

Shields added: “I’m thankful that there was always someone saying something to motivate me along the way, someone was always there to push me harder.”

Acknowledging the road has also been hard for her hometown, which has endured a lead-tainted water crisis, Shields said: “It’s time to come together. Let’s beat this water crisis, and let’s beat everything else that this city has got to beat.”

Local officials greeted and congratulated Shields on her gold medal, including Mayor Karen Weaver, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich and state Rep. Sheldon Neeley.

“She is truly an inspiration and has represented this city like no one else,” Weaver said.

Weaver added Shields shows “everyone what we can be, and the direction that the city is going.”

Kildee said while he will never have two gold medals, he said: “Everyone here shares something in common with Claressa. We all fight for Flint.”

Some of Shields’ female fans weighed in, too.

“She’s very brave and forces herself to do big things she has in her mind,” said Stella Hogard, 7, of Flint Township. “She actually just does that stuff.”

Former classmate Mahogany Brown, 21, said it’s “important” to have Shields return home once more with gold.

“All the struggles here, it’s so easy to come up with a negative outlook that it’s great we have someone doing big things,” Brown said.

As for what is next for the boxer, Shields plans to take two months off, then added: “I still can go back and win a third gold medal,” but she shrugged off suggestions she could move to mixed martial arts: “I don’t fight MMA; I’m a boxer.”

“I’m looking forward to new opportunities. I’ve got some new promoters, and me and my team have to sit down and figure out what’s the best option.”

Shields also took issue with women’s professional boxing not garnering as much attention as Olympic boxing.

“Right now, I get way more attention than any woman professional boxer,” she said. “The goal is to go professional but still have the attention” but also “be able to defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

Shields further reflected on her Olympic success, saying how it felt when the referee raised her hand for a second gold in the Olympics.

“I just, I usually can contain myself, but that moment I caught the Holy Ghost,” she laughed. “I just, I knew I could do it. I knew it, there was no doubt.

“I mean it happened so fast. I knew I did a good job, but then I thought, wow, what did I just do.”