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Olympics 2012: Team USA's Athletes Gunning for London Gold

The Toughest Teenager in America: Boxer Claressa Shields

Luke O'Brien


Claressa Shields
Jed Conklin/AP Photo
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"Extremely dangerous" was the description of Claressa Shields that the fifth-grade teacher wrote on the report to the principal. A fight had broken out. A boy had teased Shields, and she had unloaded punches on him. Not coincidentally, fifth grade was also the year Shields took up boxing. She'd had enough of feeling invisible and being bullied. She wanted to fight back. Today, Shields, 17, is a high school junior and the best amateur middleweight boxer in the country. She's the youngest member of the United States' inaugural Olympic women's boxing team and one of the most talented fighters of any gender, anywhere.

"Sometimes I feel like I can box like Joe Louis, sometimes I feel like I can box like Sugar Ray Robinson," Shields says. "But usually I box like Tommy Hearns. I use a long jab and a stiff right hand."

Hearns is a good match. He's from Detroit. Shields is from Flint, a bombed-out city with the highest rate of violent crime in the country. And her background is one of those gritty ones the wise old men of boxing like to think produce champions. Shields' father was in and out of jail, her mother unemployed. She doesn't live with either of them. Instead, she lives with her coach. Maybe it's true that the travails of her childhood combined to make Shields so tough a fighter. "I don't fold," she says. "I love when somebody gets in the ring and thinks they're going to beat me and I know for a fact that I'm going to prove them wrong."

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