London 2012 Olympics: Excel Arena a sea of green as Irish celebrate their Taylor-made Jessica Ennis moment
IN A country cast into darkness by the greed and corruption of the supposed elite of the land, Katie Taylor brought a whole lot of light when winning a riotously acclaimed lightweight gold at an ExCel Arena taken over by an occupying army of Irish, draped in Tricolours and shaking the ground under our feet with their noise.
This was joy unconfined, but it was also blessed relief. Taylor’s faith in God is well known and unbreakable – “I’d like to thank everyone for their prayers over the last week. I’d like to thank Jesus,” she said – but it is a faith that works two ways.
Taylor has faith in the man above and the people, huge throngs celebrating wildly in the concourses for an age after her victory, have faith in her. Faith and love. This was an almighty celebration here.
Her opponent yesterday was the Russian, Sofiya Ochigova, but nobody in Ireland could see past Taylor. The more you mentioned Ochigova’s quality, the more entrenched they became in Camp Katie. The more you pointed out that the Russian was a real and present danger, the more they dismissed her.
It wasn’t out of disrespect, it was out of fear; fear that the fairytale wouldn’t come true. They didn’t want to countenance failure. The thought was too grim.
But contemplate it, they had to. Oh boy, did they ever. Ochigova was an angry young lady coming into the ring and wasn’t best pleased leaving it either. In her body language you could tell that she had some issues with the result. She’d been driven on by thoughts of favouritism being showed to her opponent.
Ochigova thought she started minus ten points against Taylor. “You’re not just fighting Taylor,” she said. You’re fighting the judges around the table, you’re fighting the system.”
That’s a lot of psychological weaponry to bring into the ring. Bitterness helps put bums on the canvas sometimes.
Just before 4.45pm, Taylor entered the arena, her father and trainer, Peter, by her side as he always is, her vast support roaring her on as they have done all week, her focus steely as it ever was on her way to her world titles and her position as the pre-eminent female boxer on the planet.
This wasn’t so much a crowd as a flock, a pilgrimage in support of the golden girl. It said over the door that this was the ExCel Arena but it felt like somewhere different; Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, Thomond Park on a big Heineken Cup weekend, a U2 concert, a Pogues gig, a St Patrick’s Day/Night, a party to beat all parties.
In Ireland’s sporting history it is hard to recall so much green following one athlete. A team, yes. The footballers, the rugby men. But one person? Such an outpouring focused solely on one individual; in the lifetimes of many, this was unique.
But here was Ochigova; full of intent and thunder, feeding off the “Ole, Ole” in the crowd, drinking in the cries of “Ireland, Ireland” and using them for motivation. In the first round she hit Taylor with a big left-hand only to find a right-hand coming straight back at her. Peter Taylor said this was going to be a fight for the purists; chess in the ring. And he was right. They shadow-boxed. They waited for weakness. They stared each other out. Level after one round, 2-2.
Now it changed slightly. Ochigova shuffled, then pegged Taylor. At the end of the round the scores went up and the Russian had taken it 2-1. Suddenly the result they dared not speak of became an issue. There was a gasp and then silence. Anxiety in the arena and all across Ireland, in the pubs and clubs, in houses with families gathered round and on the big screens in Bray, Taylor’s home town, where thousands watched.
Round three. The round of a champion. Under pressure, Taylor found everything she needed. She punched in combinations and moved with speed. Ochigova tried to land the blows that would have protected her lead but her target wasn’t so easy to find now. Taylor won the round 4-1, a score that brought up an explosion from her support. If you remember Ray Houghton’s goal against England in the 1988 European championships in Germany then you’ll understand. The roar that greeted the end of that third round was Houghtonesque. Taylor was ahead by two points
The fourth was tense, the wait for the final verdict tenser still. Ochigova had gone on the attack in the closing minutes and looked happy. She had an arm in the air before the announcement; Taylor looking the worried fighter. No need. When the judgment came (10-8) the smile appeared and the place erupted. The journey was over. The gold was won.
Taylor did a lap of honour at the end. Medal around her neck and Tricolour above her head she jogged around and milked the moment. This was the Jessica Ennis moment for the Irish. In dark times, Taylor has shown her people the light.
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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