Golden Katie crowned Olympic queen
20:09, 09 Aug 2012
So, as she had said all along: if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. And, after an excruciating wait to find out if she had managed to defend a 7-5 lead going into the last round, it was.
As her hand was raised in victory, Katie Taylor sunk to her knees. Those in the ExCel Arena, the thousands in Bray and everyone else around the country rose to their feet to acclaim our new Olympic champion, 20 years and a day after Michael Carruth won gold and Wayne McCullough silver in Barcelona.
Twenty four minutes of fighting was all it took her to capture worldwide attention. She went into the tournament as a four-time world champion and five-time European champion but three fights has elevated her above maybe even Usain Bolt as the star of these Games.
This fight didn’t have the explosive excitement of her first bout with Natasha Jonas or the relative comfort of the semi-final against Mavzuna Chorieva. It was nerve-shredding for its duration and after losing her first round of the tournament it suddenly seemed for the first time that the Russian Sofya Ochigava would ruin her lifelong dream.
Both fighters let off punches in machine-gun flurries throughout and both were anxious to avoid each other’s counterattacking strengths. Ochigava had claimed beforehand that Taylor was favoured by judges and didn’t come off the gracious opponent afterwards either, taking on a defensive pose as she took to the podium to be presented with silver by Pat Hickey.
The first round had seemed to go Taylor’s way but boos rang out around the venue when 2-2 flashed up on the scoreboard. Still, the Bray girl’s stamina is one of her many attributes so there was no panic as the bell sounded for the second round.
She maintained that she felt composed and relaxed for the eight minutes but Ochigava’s spoiling tactics threatened to deflate the sense that this was her destiny. Taylor did more than any female boxer to ensure her sport became an Olympic event and following her win against Jonas there was an outpouring of praise for both fighters.
Taylor has gained quite the fan club over the last few days. The greatest Olympian of them all, Steve Redgrave, was present ringside as was the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, to witness the expected coronation of Ireland’s own boxing queen.
She lost that second round but then a ferocious noise tumbled down from the stands when the judges confirmed her ascendency after the third. Despite some showboating from Ochigava, Taylor kept her head and somehow stuck to her gameplan despite being roared forward by a crowd it is tempting to call ‘home’.
She has attracted global praise and an outpouring of emotion but it was the tearful embrace she enjoyed with her dad, Peter, and with Barry McGuigan as she made her way from the ring that lent most poignancy to the occasion. Peter doesn’t want his daughter to continue boxing and one can only wonder at the tumult of emotion he experienced as she went into the last round needing only to avoid calamity to confirm her as the great fighter he always knew she was but has taken a little longer for many others to know it too.
Ochigava was more adventurous in those final two minutes and caught her opponent three times. There was a slip from Taylor -- as there was in the first -- that drew gasps from the crowd but she landed three of her own punches to win by two points. She wasn’t sure she had done it and neither were we as both fighters lined up beside the referee in the centre of the ring for what seemed an interminable period. Eventually, her right hand was lifted in triumph and the strain of the wait was lifted off everyone who had witnessed it. In Bray, they erupted.
There has rarely been an athlete like her in this country. Certainly, there has never been one who has engendered such a surge of national emotion, such a weight of goodwill and such respect and adoration.
In the RTE studios afterwards they speculated as to what she might do next. There will probably be massive offers to turn professional - - she could name her price at this stage – and Arsenal would like to sign her, too. Whatever she does you get the sense that this success could never go to her head. She’s too humble to get as carried away as the rest of us have.
In interviews she rarely gives herself credit, preferring instead to thank others for the support they give her. There will be plenty of people who will do it for her, though, and the tributes will pour in like a waterfall so she better get used to hearing these words: Katie Taylor. Olympic champion. Hero.
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