Tina Rahimi stepped into the ring as the first Muslim woman to box for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and stepped out a landmark medallist after a bravura, trailblazing performance.
Outpointing England’s home hope Sameenah Toussaint 5-0 in their featherweight quarter-final on Thursday, the pioneering Sydneysider demonstrated she’s not just a striking role model but one hell of a fighter too.
Fighting with a headguard over her hijab while in full make-up, Rahimi silenced the partisan crowd by pouring forward and bullying her accomplished opponent for nine roughhouse minutes, winning every round convincingly.
The 26-year-old from Bass Hill only took up the sport for fitness four years ago while working as a make-up artist, yet here looked like a hardened veteran despite her lack of international experience.
Rahimi made history for Australia as soon as she got into the ring against England’s Sameenah Toussaint – despite being racked by nerves ahead of the bout
The Sydneysider got inside her taller opponent’s reach and landed heavy shots on her way to a unanimous points win
Racked with nerves before the fight after confessing to making countless trips to the bathroom, the anxiety didn’t show as she was physically so imposing that Toussaint lost her balance and tumbled over twice as Rahimi made it a close-quarters rumble.
‘I felt like I was just going in there, swinging my arms, and not thinking about what punches I was throwing. I wanted to be aggressive, show I’m dominant, I didn’t want to leave anything to the judges. If I could have, I would have gone in and knocked her out. I wanted a stoppage,’ Rahimi told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘I was so nervous. Do you know how many trips I made to the bathroom? I knew she would have the home crowd, I knew everyone would be cheering for her. Once I walked out, all the nerves left and I felt really relaxed.
‘I’m happy right now to be guaranteed a medal, but not satisfied. I came here for the gold and I’m going to do everything in there to get that gold,’ she added, looking forward to Saturday’s semi-final against Elizabeth Oshoba.
Prior to the bout, Rahimi revealed she had to miss the Australian team’s training camp in the UK because it was too tough to combine the training with observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
‘The training in Ramadan is really hard. You train before you start fasting. Then you go to the gym an hour after you’ve eaten,’ she explained.
The clear-cut victory means Rahimi is now assured of a bronze medal – but she wants gold and is looking to repeat the dose on Saturday against Elizabeth Oshoba
‘You’re hungry but you have to control your desires with food because you can’t eat too much, especially if you’ve got a comp.
‘It was tough because I had worlds straight after Ramadan this year, so I was training and trying to cut weight. I was missing out on daily events and controlling myself with all the good food. It was quite tough.’
Earlier, heavyweight Eddie Coumi also ensured there will be five Australian boxers going home with medals – and he almost didn’t have to throw a punch in the whole Games to collect it.
His quarter-final with Anguilla’s Japheth Olton was in danger of being called off because the Caribbean boxer was sporting a red gumshield.
A devout Muslim, the 26-year-old revealed she was forced to miss the Australian team’s UK training camp because it was too hard to combine training with observing Ramadan
A potential walkover would have left Coumi making the semis and earning a guaranteed bronze without having had a single fight in Birmingham.
‘I wouldn’t have taken it,’ reckoned Coumi. ‘I didn’t want it like that – I wanted to fight for it.’
He got his wish and then made short work of Olton, dominating with his ramrod jab before the referee stopped the fight after seeing Coumi unleash a wince-inducing body shot.
The drama had begun when the referee pointed out Olton’s red mouthguard to officials and a debate ensued over whether he’d be allowed to fight.
‘If the mouthguard’s red, it can mask the blood and the ref can’t see it. I thought they were going to call it off,’ explained Coumi.
‘But they let it go and let him fight and I was happy about that because at least I could get a fight under my belt at last.’
The other Aussie in action, Alex Winwood, felt ‘robbed inside’ after a controversial knockout defeat.
Australia’s Alex Winwood (in red) was devastated after dominating Zambia’s Patrick Chinyemba in the first round of their fight, only to lose due to a controversial stoppage by the referee when he was hit by a right hand in the second
Winwood, seeking revenge for an Olympic defeat by rangy Zambian Patrick Chinyemba, was floored by a sharp right cross in the second round of his flyweight quarter-final.
Bouncing quickly back to his feet ready to resume a fight he’d largely dominated in the opening round, the Perth-based fighter was left open-mouthed in astonishment when referee Maria Rizzardo called a halt to the contest.
‘I feel just a little bit robbed of an opportunity to prove myself. I felt I was fine (after the knock down), the call (from the referee) was a bit quick.
‘She’s made her mind up – that’s what the referee’s there for – to protect us. It is what it is …’
The other three Aussies in Saturday’s semis will be Kaye Scott (light-middleweight), Caitlin Parker (middleweight) and Callum Peters (middleweight).