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Originally published Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 8:49 PM

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Flyweight Esparza wins US women's boxing trials

Marlen Esparza won the flyweight division in the first U.S. Olympic team trials for women's boxing on Saturday night, beating Tyrieshia Douglas 32-17 to advance to the world championships.

AP Sports Writer

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AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. —

Marlen Esparza won the flyweight division in the first U.S. Olympic team trials for women's boxing on Saturday night, beating Tyrieshia Douglas 32-17 to advance to the world championships.

Esparza is a 22-year-old from Houston with six national championships in two weight classes. She moved up in weight two years ago to meet the 112-pound Olympic flyweight standard, but the change hasn't stopped her relentless roll toward London.

"I've been waiting for this day forever," Esparza said. "Everybody has always said they were better than me ... but everybody got two chances at me, and I won."

Esparza stuck to a meticulous game plan, allowing the aggressive Douglas to tire in each round before picking apart her defense with well-timed shots. Esparza, who fights with an American flag do-rag underneath her headgear, confidently raised one glove in victory after the final bell to the cheers of a sellout crowd at the Pend Oreille Pavilion in the Northern Quest resort-casino just outside Spokane.

"She tries to knock you out or something in the first part of every round," Esparza said. "She really does scare me, because she's intimidating and she looks fearless, but I've watched her over and over, and the first 30 seconds of every round are like the best 30 seconds of your life, but she gets tired."

Douglas refused to use exhaustion as an excuse Friday night after avenging a loss to Christina Cruz to reach the finals. Thanks to an opening-round walkover, the top-seeded Esparza had to fight just three times to win the trials, while the title bout was the second-seeded Douglas' sixth fight in six days.

After claiming the trials title, Esparza still must finish in the top eight in her weight class at the world championships in China in May to earn a spot in the first Olympic women's boxing tournament in London. Esparza said she still might fight at the national championships in two weeks because she would like to become the first female boxer to win seven consecutive titles.

Esparza's hyperkinetic energy inside the ring is the same outside her sport. The former student body president of her high school in Pasadena, Texas, excelled in five other sports before taking up boxing on the advice of her father in 2002, eventually putting off enrollment at Rice or the University of Houston to pursue the London Olympics.

With no plans to turn pro, she put enormous mental pressure on herself to win the trials, saying she deserved the Olympic honor more than her rivals because she had invested more time and energy in her growing sport.

She responded to that pressure with an unbeaten run, outlasting both of her biggest rivals - Douglas and Cruz, who beat Esparza at the Pan-Am Games box-offs last year. Esparza beat Cruz 13-10 on Thursday night.

Douglas rose from a fight-filled childhood in foster homes around Washington, D.C., to become an elite amateur boxer alongside her brother, Antoine, who will fight for a spot on the U.S. men's team in two weeks.

Tyrieshia Douglas proclaimed herself homeless this week, saying she was staying with her coaches and had no place to live if she lost, but used that motivation to avenge an earlier loss to Cruz with a 22-14 victory Friday.

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