Editor's note: In America will continue to follow Marlen Esparza’s journey to the Olympic games of London 2012. Esparza was the focus of the CNN documentary, "Latino In America: In Her Corner," which aired in September. The next Latino in America documentary focuses on Latino voters and airs in October 2012.
One step closer to her Olympic dream
Follow @cnnlia for more updates on Marlen and Latino in America stories.
By Elizabeth M. Nunez, CNN
(CNN) -- Marlen Esparza punched her name into history books with a decisive victory at the U.S. Olympic team trials for women’s boxing on Saturday night. The win makes her part of the first female squad hoping to represent the U.S. in boxing at the Olympic Games. Female boxing is making its debut at the Olympics this year.
“I’m really happy to get my foot in the door to the Olympics… I feel good that there were no bumps in the road,” 22 year-old Esparza told CNN in a phone interview.
Mexican-American Esparza from Houston defeated Tyriesha Douglas from Baltimore in the final round of the tournament with a score of 32 to 17. In amateur boxing women use protective headgear and score points by delivering clean hits to the face or chest.
“I think it’s huge for everybody and for all Hispanics in general because we love boxing. I’m glad I am the Hispanic name in the team and I’d rather it be that way. I’m honored” she said.
Marlen Esparza’s quest to become part of the U.S. Olympic team was the focus of CNN’s documentary, Latino in America: In her Corner. “I think people will start noticing [the sport] more. Hispanics just love boxing already,” she added.
When female boxing debuts at the Olympic summer games in London, women will compete in three weight categories. Along with Esparza, a 112-pound flyweight, 27 year-old Queen Underwood a seasoned 132 pound lightweight boxer from Seattle, and 16 year-old middleweight Claressa Shields complete the team.
Before any of these women can claim Olympic glory they must qualify in the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Qinhuangdao, China from May 9th through 20th.
Only women who place in the top eight positions in each weight class will actually get to London. Four additional boxers in each weight class will be selected by a commission to join the top 24 women boxers.
Esparza is the six-time national champion in her weight class. She had previously defeated Tyriesha Douglas at the USA Boxing National Championships in June 2011.
In the semi-final round at the Olympic trials Esparza defeated Christina Cruz, the fighter of Puerto Rican descent from New York City and five-time local golden gloves winner, by a 13 to 10 decision.
Esparza who is known for her focus and discipline during competition days says this time around she felt a lot calmer. “My pastor came with us and I was praying a lot which helped me.”
The worst part was I got really anxious before the final. I felt more tired than I usually do and I couldn’t concentrate well. The mental stress of it all on the last day -- it kinda got to me,” she said.
Rudy Silva, who has been Esparza’s coach since she started practicing the sport at age 11, said it was challenging for Esparza to stay focused even before the highly anticipated trials. “We’ve been ready for about three weeks. It was more like calming her down because she was so pumped,” he told CNN over the phone.
For many of the young women, the possibility of boxing at an Olympic level drove them to join the sport or practice it full-time. “This is something that has been going in their heads over and over and there’s a lot of pressure that wears them out,” Silva explained.
The U.S. Olympic trials, held over six days in Spokane, Washington, were a double elimination tournament and boxers had to lose twice to be out of the competition. It meant that those who lost would keep on fighting for a chance to challenge the victors.
“It takes a lot of stress and pressure off the winner because you get to sit back. You’re resting while they’re fighting every day. By the time they get to the final they’re exhausted,” Silva said. While Esparza emerged from the competition undefeated, other boxers like Douglas had been fighting for six continuous days.
Esparza is headed back to Houston and straight back to her gym. She is taking no breaks and considering competing at the USA Boxing National Championships that start next Monday. If she wins, she would be the first female in the country to ever hold seven consecutive national titles.
“After that I will take one or two weeks off,” she said. Then it will be time to prepare for a tournament in April, and most importantly, the World Championships, which is the Olympic qualifying event, in May.
Esparza, who is ranked 14th in the world in her weight class, said her strongest rival will be the Russian contender in her weight class. But, Esparza says, thinking of tough competition only makes her work harder. “My timing is a lot better and I'm faster. I'm still getting better at the international style and learning the system.”
“I feel good but I still have to qualify [at the World Championships] so the hardest part isn’t done yet,” she said.