Boxer Claressa Shields makes hard look easy

— -- RIO DE JANEIRO -- Nothing seems impossible for Claressa Shields right now. Just look at her performance here on the last afternoon of Rio, 2016. The pressure could not have been higher. The stakes could not have been larger. But just as she had done in every boxing match she'd fought this week, Shields made the moment look smooth and easy as a sunny stroll down Copacabana Beach.

From the opening moments, she moved with startling speed, snapped jabs and hooks with her unforgettable power. When her opponent tried to counter, Shields bent and twirled and made herself impossible to cleanly hit.

In the women's middleweight division, no boxer in the world is close to her equal. The favorite daughter of struggling Flint, Michigan, put in a performance that underscored this once more.

She won every round of her gold-medal bout against Holland's Nouchka Fontijn, a tall opponent who tried to hone in on Shields but too often whiffed. It looked at times like Shields was putting on a magic act: all those fakes and feints, making herself invisible, then reappearing to launch sudden flurries.

And after the last punch had been thrown, Shields would produce one last trick. On the awards platform, as she received her Rio gold, she reached into a pocket and produced a surprise: the glittering medal she'd won in the London Games of 2012. There she stood -- beaming, soaking in the moment, making it seem remarkably easy -- not one, but two gold medals wrapped around her neck.

Nobody does that. Nobody but Claressa Shields. This was a historic win: Shields became the first American boxer -- male or female -- to win two Olympic gold medals.

"Oh my god, I feel like I'm dreaming right now," she said in a postmatch interview, sweat still glistening on her face. "Somebody pinch me, oh my god."

Shields possesses a supreme self-confidence. She insisted this week, for example, that she wants to be considered one of the greatest boxers to ever live, man or woman. But as she worked to gather her emotions on Sunday, it seemed there was still some small part of her that is awestruck by all she has achieved. In Rio that meant not just another gold, but marching through the entire tournament without losing a single round.

"Oh my god, this is crazy," she said. "I don't remember getting hit throughout the fight. ... I knew I was going to win here. ... [But] now that I am actually here, wow!"

What comes next?

There is talk of the pros, but women's pro boxing still has few fans, and the money to be made is but a sliver of the multimillions available to men. USA Boxing has talked about structuring a deal so she can be better compensated -- enough at least to keep her in the game and keep her focused on the Olympics.

Tokyo 2020? She's 21 now. It's easy to imagine her getting nothing but better, easy to conjure an image of her standing on a podium in Japan, her broad shoulders wrapped by three gold medals instead of a pair.

"I don't know about wearing all three," she said at her news conference, cracking wise, motioning to the haul she has already earned. "Because this is killing my neck."

The assembled group of journalists got a good laugh out of that. It was nothing new. In Rio, Shields showed off her warm, engaging personality; a charm that has led to comparisons with some of boxing's most charismatic fighters -- even to one of her heroes, Muhammad Ali. Her development out of the ring has been as stunning as her performance inside of it. She is far more mature, far more comfortable with opening up than the shy 17-year-old from a stubbornly tough community who burst upon the Olympic boxing scene in 2012.

"When I was 17," she said, "I didn't want to talk much if you didn't talk about boxing."

Being closed and wary made sense, of course, given the way she'd grown up.

The story is famous now. It has been the subject of many TV and magazine profiles. It has been told in an acclaimed PBS documentary, T-Rex. The CliffsNotes version goes like this: As Shields grew up, her mother struggled against addiction, and her father was in prison for seven years. Her Flint neighborhood was a killing zone. Shields was sexually abused by two of her mother's boyfriends. But just before her teenage years her father got out of prison and took her to a local gym. A few years later she was stepping to the top of the boxing podium in London.

Her life, post-Games of 2012, has had more struggles. Endorsement deals she'd hoped for didn't materialize. Instead of quitting the sport, Shields rededicated herself, left Flint, moved to the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, hooked up with new coaches and kept on maturing.

What's next?

Maybe now she steps away from the ring and crushes the endorsement world. With that talent, that vibe, her against-every-odds story, society's newfound willingness to listen to the important stories black women have to share ... why not?

More likely she does all of the above, stays in the game, and helps take women's boxing to new heights.

"She will be only 25 in Tokyo," said Billy Walsh, the new head women's coach for USA Boxing. "She could go on to the next one, that could be in Los Angeles [the Olympics in 2024]."

2024. Eight years from now? Well, maybe a fourth straight gold. That's quite a long way for an athlete competing in a brutal sport, even an athlete as skilled as America's first-ever double winner of boxing gold.

But don't put it past her. Don't put anything past her. Because right now, nothing seems impossible for Claressa Shields.