London's sold-out Excel Center was an echo chamber of cheers as Great Britain sent its first fighter into the ring to take on an American on the first day ever of women's Olympic boxing.
Quanitta "Queen" Underwood from Seattle, Wash., the first American to compete, lost to Liverpool's Natasha Jonas, 21-13, over four high-energy rounds.
Though Underwood arrived in London with five national championship wins, she faced a tough opening bout against Jonas, whom she had lost to before. The crowd was dedicating its shouts and applause to its hometown hopeful, a world championship bronze medalist, whose southpaw or left-handed stance provided an additional challenge to Underwood.
"You can't let the score get to you, but I think it got to me a bit," Underwood said on NBC after her match. "I threw all game plans out the window ... I was just trying to get her out of there."
Before the match, USA's coach Basheer Abdullah said that he had spent time studying video of the southpaw fighter to refine Underwood's strategy.
"We can't let the Great Britain boxer box," he said on NBC. "We want to crowd her, move her to her right ... make it ugly, stay physical."
Underwood had a one-point advantage after the first two-minute round, but lost by increasing increments in each of the following three rounds.
During a post-fight NBC interview, Underwood was unable to speak at times, putting her hand over her heart and looking at her interviewer with watery eyes as if to indicate that she was too emotional to speak. She said it was "very touching" to have made it to London since it "took a big chunk of my life to get here," but added that she would be leaving "sad."
"I just wanted a medal," she said. "I know I had a tough draw from the beginning."
Now, she says, she will focus her energy on supporting her teammates. Clarissa Shields, a middleweight from Flint, Mich. and Marlen Esparza, a flyweight from Houston, Texas, who round out the American team, take on their first opponents next week.
She said she'll also cheer on Jonas' next opponent, the woman Underwood would have fought had she won her fight. Ireland's four-time world champion Katie Taylor is the most decorated and favored lightweight at the Games.
Laila Ali, a retired boxer and daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, said on NBC that despite Underwood being "a little reckless," she fought well and should consider herself a champion.
Russia's Elena Savelyeva threw the first historical punch of the day against Kim Hye-Song of North Korea, whom she beat 12-9 over four rounds in the flyweight bout. Venezuela's Karlha Magliocco took the next victory over Brazil's Erica Matos, 15-14, in a match that was criticized by boxing analysts for what they characterized as unfair judging—a criticism that abounded during the men's opening matches. Ali said on NBC that the bout should have gone to Matos.
India's petite powerhouse "Magnificent" Mary Kom took the next victory, as expected, over Korolina Jaszczow of Poland, 19-14. Kom, a five-time world champion from a rural area on the border of Myanmar, is expected to take gold in the flyweight division. The 29-year-old mother of two became a national hero through her athletic ascent and has become the subject of an upcoming film.
Women's boxing debut comes after a decades-long campaign for female athletes to gain acceptance in a male-dominated sport. The International Olympic Committee rejected a bid for the sport's addition to the Olympic docket ahead of the Beijing Games, but finally decided to include it after a 2009 vote.
While the IOC's decision has been hailed as a major breakthrough, it has also been criticized for limiting women to just three weight divisions compared with 10 for men. The IOC has explained that the women's side will grow in future Games and as women's boxing continues to grow in popularity. For now, 36 women across three weight divisions—flyweight, lightweight and middleweight—will battle for three medals beginning Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET. The bouts will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com.