London 2012 Olympics: Boxing lightweight Josh Taylor aims to hit the target
HALF a century ago Scotland’s last Olympic lightweight struck gold. Now Josh Taylor aims to hit the same target
IT is 56 years since Dick McTaggart MBE of Dundee won gold in the lightweight division of the Melbourne Olympics boxing tournament, at the end of which he was named “Boxer of the Games” and collected the famous Val Barker trophy. Later this week, Josh Taylor of Edinburgh will set out on the path to emulating McTaggart as the first Scotsman since the great Dundonian to compete at lightweight in the Games.
McTaggart had to travel to the other side of the world to find gold, but 21-year-old Taylor has a serious chance of gaining an Olympic medal only 400 miles south of his home city.
He goes to London with the good wishes of McTaggart ringing in his ears – they met recently – while a signed photo of Scotland’s last Olympic gold winner adorns the wall of the Lochend Boxing Club gym in Edinburgh.
Can Taylor really do a McTaggart? The man who knows Taylor best in the ring thinks so. Terry McCormack founded Lochend five years ago and Taylor is his best-known amateur graduate.
“At 5ft 11ins, he is big at the weights,” said McCormack. “He is also lightning fast and can punch. If he can get a win in the first round he will grow in confidence – Josh always gets better as a tournament goes on.”
He proved that boxing for Scotland in the Delhi Commonwealth Games two years ago, surprising many by his progress to the final.
In that Commonwealth 60 kg lightweight final, Taylor came up against Tom Stalker, the vastly experienced Liverpudlian, who used all his wiles to beat the then 19-year-old Scot 11-3. Stalker is now boxing captain of Team GB and has stepped up to the 64kg (light-welterweight) division. Taylor was also competing at light-welterweight but decided to come back down a division to lightweight.
Having to strip 4kg when you are 5ft 11ins is a difficult task, but McCormack says Taylor is managing fine. “He is looking great and making the weight no problem,” said McCormack. “He is not looking tired, weak or gaunt, and for someone who has stretched in height in the last year that’s some achievement. He did it with the right nutrition and training. He’s very determined and focused, and he has sacrificed so much to make these Olympics.”
Taylor’s mother and father, Jamie and Diane, have supported their son in his boxing ambitions since he left school, while two other important members of Team Taylor are his sister, Finch, and girlfriend, Danielle.
They have not seen Taylor too much recently as he has been dividing his time between the Team GB training camps – they are based in Sheffield but have “warm weathered” in France – and Edinburgh where his weekends are spent largely with McCormack in the Lochend gym.
“I knew when I first got him in this gym three years ago that he was heading for the top,” said McCormack. “He had such a will to win that I had to sort his mind out first.
“He would get angry and frustrated with himself if anything went wrong, even if he took one punch. But you need to keep your cool in the ring so we worked on keeping him calm and relaxed.
“If you go into the water you’re going to get wet, so I had to teach him to expect to take shots and then just get on with it rather than getting angry.
“Now he’s brilliant at keeping focused, not losing his temper.”
The former schoolboy Taekwondo champion has already been in the ring with some of the medal favourites, such as Italy’s Domenico Valentino. Taylor lost by just two points to the Italian 18 months ago but has come on in leaps and bounds since.
The biggest obstacle to gold is the hot favourite, Vasyl Lomachenko, of Ukraine, who won gold as a featherweight in Beijing in 2008 when he also lifted the Val Barker trophy. He is the reigning world amateur lightweight champion, and is many people’s idea of the banker bet of the entire boxing tournament.
Yet Taylor has come down a weight division while Lomachenko has had to step up – if it comes to punching power, Taylor should have an advantage.
McCormack said: “Josh is still going to be one of the youngest guys in the division because the favourites are all aged 24 to 27 or so, and that’s why he can take his time before turning professional.
“He wants to win gold for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and then try again for the Olympics four years from now when he will still only be 25.”
Though Taylor’s greatest asset is his blistering hand speed, being a southpaw is usually also advantageous, but McCormack points out that, quite curiously, about half of the top boxers in the lightweight division are southpaws, including Lomachenko.
But McCormack still sees a medal around Taylor’s neck: “At the pre-Olympic tournament he was still fighting at 64 kgs, and he won it after beating three opponents who have all been selected for their national teams in London.
“If he can get a good performance in the first fight he will build momentum and, yes, he could go all the way to the final.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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