LONDON - One after another, the boxers walked down the neon-lit tunnel and into history.
Two wore skirts. They all wore determination on their faces.
And they put on a show that should prove their sport not only belongs in the Olympic ring, but might be a must-see event.
Women's boxing made its long-awaited Olympic debut Sunday, finally punching through the door to the only all-male sport in the summer program. A landmark tournament for gender equality in sports began with 12 entertaining bouts featuring uppercuts, haymakers and footwork that all measure up nicely to the men's amateur sport.
The fighters all understood the history they made with every punch. They couldn't let it distract them from their Olympic goals - not after every fight that came before.
"We waited so long," said Swedish middleweight Anna Laurell, who fought in the original women's world championships 11 years ago. "I'm so proud to be here. I felt almost tears when I was walking to the ring and I could hear the crowd and my family. I lost a bit of concentration for my fight, but I got it back."
Russia's Elena Savelyeva won the first bout with a busy jab and strong combinations. U.S. lightweight Queen Underwood lost a close fight to Britain's Natasha Jonas. The crowd roared for every fighter, clearly enjoying the tight competition and disciplined styles of the world's top female boxers.
Indian flyweight Mary Kom also fought in the first women's world championships in Scranton, Pa., in 2001. She became a women's sports icon throughout Asia with her international success in an unlikely sport, but often wondered whether she would ever wear an Olympic uniform.
That's one reason Kom wept after winning her Olympic debut, 12 years after she defied her father's wishes to pursue boxing - and on her twins' fifth birthday, no less.
"Every athlete wants to play in the Olympic Games, and these past years, we've been waiting and waiting," said Kom, who beat Poland's Karolina Michalczuk. "When will boxing be in the Olympic Games? I waited 12 years because I wanted to play. I'm very emotional, but I'm fighting in the ring. I am winning."
"It was a total pleasure to make history," Savelyeva said. "I tried to show my pride in women's boxing. It was an amazing thing to do."