As another day of boxing inside the famed Ryogoku Kokugikan began, a volunteer at the top left corner of the arena futilely held a laminated placard as he paced the landing. The rules etched upon it were clear: no chanting or standing up, wash your hands and wear a mask. Few paid attention to the former. Noise rained down from national delegations and athletes who roared, leapt to their feet and even pounded drums.
The arrival of Caroline Dubois in the ring generated a disturbance of its own as the Briton stood a round away from clinching her first Olympic medal in the women’s 57-60kg quarter-finals. She came desperately close in a tight, tense bout against Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand, but it all ended in heartbreak with just one single point separating the two as Seesondee won 3-2.
The contest was a clash of experience and youth as Dubois, 20, formerly a top junior and youth Olympic champion, continued her transition into senior bouts against Seesondee, un 29 year-old former world silver medalist with a wealth of experience at her back.
From the very beginning it was a desperately tight, tactically standoffish contest, the two women sizing each other up and then carefully choosing their moments of attack. It was Seesondee who just landed fractionally more with her right hand, and the judges awarded her the first round.
The second round was a similar affair, but for Dubois starting to land more right hooks. A measure of how close the bout was: every judge chose a different winner in round two compared to round one and they went into round three tied. With everything on the line, the final round demonstrated the toughest set of boxing. Both women were at their most aggressive during the contest and left their mark on the other, and they ended with so little separating them.
Seesondee had finished every round by raising her arms to the sky and as they awaited their fate, she pumped her fist triumphantly. But that was simple bravado. As she was named the winner by one point, Seesondee fell to her knees. Dubois responded by pacing the ring in shock.
As Seesondee goes on to face Kellie Anne Harrington of Ireland in the semi-final, Dubois will be left to digest a tough afternoon. She walked through the mixed zone and attempted to speak with the media, only to find that she could not. Overcome with emotion, she covered her face before she was quickly moved along.
Dubois, a Guardian columnist for the Olympics, had publicly declared her single-minded intention to win the gold medal and this defeat will hurt, as they are supposed to. But once the pain begins to abate, this will also surely be a formative moment in her young career.