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The earliest evidence of boxing dates back to Egypt around 3000 BC. The sport was introduced to the ancient Olympic Games by the Greeks in the late 7th century BC, when soft leather thongs were used to bind boxers’ hands and forearms for protection.
Later, in Rome, leather thongs were exchanged for the cestus – a glove studded with metal. Unfortunately this did not help the gladiators involved, as boxing matches of the era usually ended with the death of one or other contestant.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, boxing came to an abrupt end. It resurfaced in 17th century England, and organised amateur boxing officially began in 1880. Originally only five weight classes were contested: Bantam, not exceeding 54 kilos; Feather, not exceeding 57 kilos; Light, not exceeding 63.5 kilos; Middle, not exceeding 73 kilos; and Heavy, any weight.
When boxing made its Olympic debut at the 1904 Games in St Louis, it was the USA, the only country entered, which took all the medals. Later, the Americans continued to dominate boxing, winning 109 medals (including 48 gold) out of the 842 up for grabs, closely followed by the Cubans and Russians.
Since its inclusion in the Olympic programme, boxing has been staged at each edition of the Games, except in 1912 in Stockholm, owing to Swedish law, which forbade the practice. The rules have evolved since the 1980s: 1984 in Los Angeles: protective helmet obligatory; 1992 in Barcelona: set-up of an electronic scoring system to strengthen the objectivity of refereeing; 2007: standardised point scoring.
Women’s boxing will make its debut at the 2012 London Games in London. The current 11 men’s events will be replaced by 10 men’s and 3 women’s events.