• ESPN Sports Personality - No. 7

Nicola Adams: The lioness of the Olympic rings

ESPN staff
December 13, 2012
Nicola Adams is just the "little lass from Leeds" © Getty Images

The past 12 months have thrown up a catalogue of memorable performances, including golden Olympic moments, acts of golfing greatness and more than the odd piece of heroism on a bike. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...

The fortune of being the first means that Nicola Adams' gold medal in boxing will never be forgotten.

When the 'little lass from Leeds' - her words - delivered the blows which earned a 16-7 points victory over China's Ren Cancan in the flyweight gold medal bout, she became the first woman ever to win an Olympic boxing event.

But aside from having that luck, which has ensured her name will be the answer to a pub quiz question for as long as pubs exist, Adams' achievement is outstanding for less historical reasons too. Not only did the newly turned 30-year-old reach the Olympic summit of a brutal sport with a shining smile on her face, she also did it against an opponent who had Adams under her thumb in two of their three previous clashes.

Cancan, three years her opponent's junior, beat the Englishwoman in the finals of the 2010 and 2012 World Championships, with Adams, perhaps crucially, getting one over the Chinese fighter in early 2012.

But overturning that big fight record in front of 10,000 screaming fans at the ExCeL proved Adams' incredible sense of timing and was a handsome reward for 17 years of blazing a trail on behalf of female boxing in Britain.

As a 12-year-old she joined Burmantofts Amateur Boxing Club as their only female member but within a year she had convinced her trainer to put her in the ring for the first time. More pioneering was to follow and in 2001 she became the first female boxer to represent England. From there it took Adams time to make her mark but when she did, amateur titles followed in quick succession: European silver in 2007, World silvers in 2008, 2010 and 2012, European gold in 2011 and then that maiden Olympic title.

What won her the gold medal in August were quick feet and accurate punching but what earned her, and many others, a place on the Olympic bill in the first place was a decade of campaigning gracefully with her fists. Yet despite doing more than most to get girls in the ring for 2012, Adams rebuffs the idea that she is a champion of her gender, expressing more desire to be a role model for the sport at large.

"Even though I am a woman boxer, I am not just inspiring women, I hope I am inspiring boys as well," Adams said in the aftermath of winning gold.

Her unisex appeal was even recognised by the Boxing Writers' Club who awarded her a prize for services to the sport at their annual dinner, ending a 60-year tradition of the award going to a male fighter.

Great sporting moments create great commentary and Adams' exploits drew out arguably the most memorable line from the entire Games: "Nicola Adams... points proudly... to the lion... above the Olympic rings on her chest."

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