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Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: January 4, 1:21 PM ET
Claressa Shields taking it on the chin

By Jim Caple

Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields was so worried her gold medal would turn to silver that she slept with it wrapped around her hand.

Gabby Douglas was a guest on "The Tonight Show," made a cameo on "The Vampire Diaries," performed on "Dancing With the Stars," found herself on the cover of several magazines (Time, People and Essence) and on the front of Corn Flakes cereal boxes, received a long Vanity Fair profile, presented an award on the MTV video awards, sat for an interview with Oprah, threw out the first pitch at a Mets game, and delivered the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention.

Fellow teenage gold medalist Claressa Shields, meanwhile, recently took the ice between periods at a minor league hockey game in her hometown of Flint, Mich.

"I haven't been in a whole bunch of magazines. I haven't had magazine covers like Gabby Douglas," said Shields, 17. "It's like her medal weighs more. ...

"I expected to have people knocking on the door asking for my endorsement or calling me. It really hasn't happened like that. I had visions of never having to worry about money again. It's kind of been a little different."

Shields does have a deal with a local car dealership, but apart from that, her coach, Jason Crutchfield, says she hasn't received any endorsement offers.

"She's known everywhere she goes, but she hasn't gotten any endorsements," Crutchfield said. "We're kind of wondering why a female gold medalist from America wouldn't get [some offers], but it hasn't been like that. ...

"Claressa is a teenager, too, and a gold medalist in boxing. She was the only one to get a gold medal out of the men and women boxers. I don't know what to think."

We train hard because beauty just isn't on the outside. It's inside. Boxing is violent, but it can also be beautiful. ... Us showing the beauty of our sport makes us beautiful.

-- Claressa Shields

Actually, Crutchfield and Shields do have an explanation for the disparity in accolades and opportunities. Douglas is a gymnast and that sport has long drawn some of the highest ratings at the Olympics. Shields is a boxer, and that sport has significantly declined in popularity in recent decades. Women's boxing made its Olympic debut in London, but NBC didn't televise much of it, generally leaving the coverage to the Internet.

"Gymnastics has been going for a long time, and it's been very successful," Crutchfield said. "For Gabby to do what she's done -- that was wonderful and my heart goes out to Gabby. But I'm thinking that's what it is. Everyone looks at gymnastics, but boxing took a nosedive for Americans."

Those who didn't see Shields winning her gold medal in August missed out on a dramatic story. She comes from a broken home, lived with an aunt for many years rather than with her mother or father, and told Essence magazine she was sexually abused and raped by a family acquaintance at a young age. But she overcame all of that to win the gold, and in the gold-medal match she had to beat a boxer nearly twice her age, 33-year-old Russian Nadezda Torlopova.

"I felt like crying, but I didn't because why cry when you're so happy?" Shields said of winning the medal. "I wanted to jump on the ropes, climb on chairs, just go nuts -- I had to contain myself. The first night, I wrapped the gold medal around my hand when I went to bed. I had this dream that I would wake up and it would be silver. But I woke up and it was still gold."

Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game after she won the gold medal, but requests for magazine covers or endorsements have not followed.

If Shields has been disappointed by the lack of attention since the Olympics, she isn't letting it slow her down. She has made numerous speaking appearances (some paid), using the occasions to talk about having the resilience to overcome any obstacles and to keep fighting to the top. She didn't have a family supporting her, so she motivated herself, as did Crutchfield.

Shields also returned to high school for her senior year and said she is maintaining a 3.10 GPA despite the demands of training and public appearances. After graduating next June, she plans to attend Ferris State University in Michigan and major in photo journalism.

Her next bout will be at the U.S. national championships, which were just shifted from January to March. She also plans to turn pro. Even though she already has a gold medal, her career is just beginning.

If the gold medal didn't translate into national fame and riches, Crutchfield says, Shields did inspire a number of girls -- and a few boys -- to start boxing at the local gym. And after overcoming so much by age 17, the boxer is determined to reach even loftier levels. She would even like to get a women's boxing channel started one day.

"Like I told her, 'All we have to do is stick to what we do and not worry about the rest,'" Crutchfield said. "That got us the gold medal, and that's all we've got to do now."

Who knows? If Shields can top what she has already done at 17, maybe Oprah or David Letterman will take notice.