London 2012 Olympics: Ireland’s darling Taylor a 5ft 5in colossus
After the fists came the verbals. When Sofya Ochigava boxed her way through the semi-final of the women’s lightweight division here at the ExCeL arena the formidable Russian stopped to talk about the girl she would face in today’s denouement – Katie Taylor, Ireland’s darling.
“Taylor,” she said, “is not a bad boxer, she’s one of the best but sometimes referees forget that she’s not world beater, she’s only boxer. When you are boxing with Taylor you are minus ten points before the fight.”
Her comments were stark and went against the grain. Many will say, in the vernacular of the land, that the Russian, seeded two to Taylor’s one, is talking s****. Taylor; five-time European champion, four-time world champion, 13 major finals since 2005 and 13 victories. “Not bad,” says Ochigava. How about ‘unbeatable’?
Taylor is a 5ft 5in colossus, one of the most popular sports people in the country, a name that has transcended boxing and entered the hearts of her people. Shay Given, the international goalkeeper, was here to see her fight yesterday. On Twitter, marquee names lined-up to applaud her. Taylor is on the front pages, the back pages and spread all over the pages in between. She’s not just at the Olympics. For Irish people, she is the Olympics. And you can feel the power of their support in many different ways. There is the noise that greeted her the other day when she defeated Natasha Jonas of Britain; believe it or not, the highest decibel level recorded at these Games. You could feel it yesterday when she entered the ring against Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva against a backdrop of waving Tricolours and songs plucked straight from other sporting theatres like Lansdowne Road and Thomond Park. The morning’s Daily Telegraph mistakenly referred to her as British. Here again the hurricane of Taylor’s support was seen. Once her vast fan club had done with the people responsible for the error their editorial heads were spinning like they’d walked into a Taylor right-hand.
So Ochigava should steel herself ahead of the final. Team Taylor will monster her from the stands. “It’s difficult,” said the Russian. “You know when you go boxing with Katie Taylor you’re not boxing with her, you’re boxing with all judges around the table and it’s difficult boxing against the system, but I will try like all other girls. The motivation is there. I must do it. In situations they will try to give her too much points. I don’t think about it, I know about it. And I know when you go with her you must get back these minus ten points to make it zero-zero again. Because if you don’t win ten-plus, it’ll be 50-50. You understand what I mean? If it’s a crazy difference (she meant that if she dominates the fight and deserves to win by a big margin) then maybe one point they will give you (ie a one-point winning margin).”
This kind of thing will not play well with Taylor’s people; all five million of them. The fighter herself was unaware of what the Russian said but even if she had been she’d have likely shrugged it off. Taylor has a lovely karma to her and you wonder if anything disrupts it. She’s soft and gentle outside the ring; respectful and kind. “It’s amazing, really, this is what I dreamed of all my life and now I have the chance to box for a gold medal, it’s incredible,” she said.
“The support out here is unbelievable, I feel like I’m boxing at home in Dublin. Ten thousand Irish people screaming for me, this is what dreams are made of and hopefully I can make everyone proud. I have to get myself ready now for the final and it’s going to be a completely different fight again, so I’m going to have to stay sharp and hopefully I can bring home a gold medal, please God.”
Faith is as much a part of Taylor’s story as talent. They go together, hand in hand. This she gets from her mother, Bridget. “There’s nothing overly profound about it,” says Bridget. “It’s just simple. We’re committing things into God’s hands. She (Katie) gets peace in that.” Before her fight against Chorieva, before all fights, Katie reads from her Bible, Psalms 18 and 20. On her warm-up T-shirts she has words from the scriptures: ‘It is God that arms me with the strength….He trains my hands for battle’.
The Taylors were all boxing people, her father and trainer, Peter, winning an Irish title in 1986, the year of Katie’s birth. After he finished in the ring he opened a boxing club in Bray, County Wicklow and it was into this world that his daughter was born. Father a boxer, mother a boxing referee. “I remember Katie as a baby, barely able to stand up, and Peter would be on his knees in the sitting room and he’d have the head gear on her and she’d be punching,” said Bridget. “She couldn’t even see out of the headgear. Only a baby. It was mad.
“She gets a lot of her determination from Pete. He’s very competitive. Her competitive streak definitely comes from him. There’s a gentleness about her as well. She’s a very kind person. She does a lot for people that nobody would know. But when she steps inside the ring there is a steely determination. Her focus is frightening sometimes. It’s so…eye on the prize.” After the victory yesterday, Peter stood chatting about what his daughter had done and what she had left to do, spoke of the crowds and what it meant to the family. “There’s meant to be a recession in Ireland,” he said. “People with their hard-earned cash are coming over here and spending it to support Katie. What can you say? Unbelievable, like. It brings tears to your eyes.” He didn’t expect these extraordinary scenes, these enormous outpourings of Irishness both in the ExCeL and beyond. There was a time when he used to complain about the lack of coverage his daughter was getting in the media, the lack of attention paid to her fantastic accomplishments in the ring, her world-beating brilliance. Not anymore. Now there is a frenzy to get close to her. Now she is box-office, shy in the limelight but accepting of it and with a smile to go with the talent that has made her a nation’s sweetheart. Ireland’s Jessica Ennis. “No, no,” says her father of the masses who have turned up to support her. “I thought there was a few mates coming over. It’s unbelievable, especially the state that the country is in as well. For people to spend money and come over, what can you say?”
One more fight, then. One more. Taylor has fought 139 times and has won 132 of them. Twice in the last 12 months she has fought Ochigava and twice she has won. Not a lot in either of those fights, but Taylor emerged both times. “It is what it is,” says Peter. “Nobody is looking forward to boxing Katie, you know. I’d say the fight will be very cagey. Who holds their nerve? It’s going to be a battle of nerves. Not one for the armchair viewers. It’s going to be a technical battle I would say. We’ll have a look at tactics tonight. Ochigava is brilliant.” She’s an excellent boxer.”
Excellent and bitter by the sounds of it. The Russian will be Taylor’s ultimate test. And if you believe the throngs in green at the ExCel, her ultimate victory.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east