OLYMPICS/Taiwanese boxer caps rise from humble beginnings with Olympic medal

08/05/2021 07:06 PM
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Huang Hsiao-wen (left). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021
Huang Hsiao-wen (left). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021

Taipei, Aug. 5 (CNA) While every athlete's road to the Olympics is long and full of sacrifice, it is hard not to feel that Taiwanese flyweight boxer Huang Hsiao-wen (黃筱雯) has walked a mile further than the rest.

The 23-year-old, who was born into a troubled family environment in Taipei, completed that journey by winning a bronze medal on Wednesday, Taiwan's first ever in an Olympic boxing event.

One of four boxers in Taiwan's Tokyo delegation, Huang generated considerable buzz by winning 5-0 decisions over Italy's Giordanna Sorrentino and Serbia's Nina Radanovic in her second round and quarterfinal matches.

With a ticket to the semifinals, Huang guaranteed herself a medal -- since 1970, the International Olympic Committee has awarded bronze medals to both losing semifinalists in boxing, rather than having them compete for third.

However, she was also the underdog in her high-profile bout against Buse Naz Cakiroglu of Turkey, the current world No. 2.

Huang Hsiao-wen. CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021
Huang Hsiao-wen. CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021

Throughout her impressive run this week, media coverage of Huang has drawn attention to her compelling personal story, often trying to glean some insight from the gallery of tattoos -- ranging from a map outline of Taiwan to popular cartoon characters -- that decorate her left bicep.

In interviews, however, Huang has spoken of the significance of a tattoo on her chest containing words of encouragement from her father: "Boxer girl, remember why you started."

Hardscrabble beginnings

There was little in Huang's early years to suggest that she would ever get started in, let alone reach the competitive peak of a niche sport like women's boxing.

One year after her birth in 1997, Huang's parents divorced, and not long after that her father was sentenced to prison for the first of an eventual three times on drug-related offenses. Huang was sent to live with her grandparents, where she was often left on her own for hours at a time while her grandfather drove a taxi to support the family.

Huang Hsiao-wen (center). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021
Huang Hsiao-wen (center). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021

As she got older, she struggled in school, prompting warnings from relatives that she was on her way to becoming "a good-for-nothing like (her) father."

On entering Taipei's Lan-Zhou Junior High School at age 13, Huang recalled, her main ambition was to become a pro basketball player.

When plans to field a team fell through, the school's boxing coach Liu Tsung-tai (劉宗泰) -- who would go on to become her trainer and a "second father figure" -- urged her to give boxing a try.

From there, Huang never looked back. After cutting her teeth in a series of youth competitions, she went on to win a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games and a gold at the 2019 AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships, ultimately securing a spot in the Olympics.

The sport, Huang said, gave her confidence, and taught her that "while I can't change the circumstances I was born into, what I can change is my own fate."

Bronze medalist

In her Olympic semifinal bout against Cakiroglu Wednesday, Huang stumbled badly out of the gate, losing the first round to the Turkish fighter on all five judges' scorecards.

Her form improved slightly in the second round, which she lost by a close 3-2 score, but she dropped the third in another 5-0 decision to close out the match.

Huang Hsiao-wen (left). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021
Huang Hsiao-wen (left). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021

After the fight, Huang expressed disappointment with her performance, telling reporters that she had been nervous and could have done better.

Despite having lost, she said, she felt "extremely honored" to have brought glory to Taiwan by winning the country's first ever Olympic boxing medal.

Noting the recent media coverage of her family's past, Huang said she also wanted to send a message to her father.

"I want to tell him, regardless of what he did in the past, that he'll always be my pillar of strength. I take pride in him, and I hope that he is proud of me too," she said.

(By Hsieh Ching-wen and Matthew Mazzetta)

Enditem/AW

Huang Hsiao-wen (left). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021
Huang Hsiao-wen (left). CNA photo Aug. 5, 2021
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