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It was Nien-Chin Chen’s policeman uncle who suggested that she take up boxing when she was a girl, after she started her athletic career in wrestling. He said her body strength would be best suited to pugilism and suggested she give it a try. And since switching sports, she hasn’t looked back.
“He looked at me and said I had a strong body and so I should try to become a boxing athlete,” she explains. “After one year of training as a wrestler, I became a boxer.”
The 2013 Junior World Champion has been a formidable talent in the ring since winning the 75kg category at the International Boxing Association (AIBA) Women's Junior and Youth World Boxing Championships in Bulgaria. With only three years of training, she won Chinese Taipei’s first gold medal in an international boxing tournament. Chen went on to win silver at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, setting her up for a history-making Olympic debut at Rio 2016.
“YOG was a big competition,” she says. “I learnt a lot from that and hope to translate that experience – of the best techniques to fight with - to the Olympics. There’s a big difference because of the age and experience, but also technique.”
Chen qualified for Rio in May after beating Moroccan opponent Khadija Mardi at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships finals in Kazakhstan. As well as becoming Chinese Taipei’s first female Olympic boxer, she was the first Chinese Taipei boxer of either gender to reach the Games since Atlanta 1996. The achievement was a crowning moment for the growth of women’s boxing in her home country, which has been actively supported by the AIBA and its HeadsUp! Initiative.
“Boxing has not enjoyed a lot of popularity here, not many people know about our sport,” Chen says. “But the women’s team are taking part in more competitions, winning more medals, so people are starting to notice it. It’s getting popular because they have a lot of competitions, and they watch the fights on TV.”
Chen was even able to defend her junior title on home soil when Chinese Taipei hosted the 2015 Women’s Junior and Youth World Boxing Championships. It was the first time an international boxing tournament was held in the country. After the event, the Chinese Taipei Boxing Federation (CTBF) signed the AIBA HeadsUp! Charter in Taipei City, committing to promote and support women’s boxing through 2016.
Wu Ching-kuo, AIBA President and a Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said Chen's qualification for Rio 2016 was the start of a new chapter for boxing in Chinese Taipei. The country was said to be the “perfect hub” for the core values campaign in the region, given a growing grassroots program in the country and emerging talents like Chen.
“I’m very happy to have this opportunity and honour for our team,” she continues. “The Olympics is every athlete’s dream so it’s great for me, it’s a dream come true.”
In preparation for Rio, Chen trains for five hours a day, six days a week, with Saturdays reserved for analysing recordings of bouts.
“I have a goal which is to get a gold medal, so I’m very excited and I am trying to prepare as well as I possibly can,” she adds.
Chen has already taken on one of the host nation’s hopefuls at the World Championships with an impressive win over Brazil’s Andreia Bandeira, demonstrating her potential in the ring.
“This was my first elite World Championships and my Brazilian opponent was a great boxer,” she said afterwards. “The timing of my punches was working well, so I was confident from the second round.”
And while Chen now has her sights on the podium at Rio 2016, she also carries with her the hopes of a small country with big aspirations.