God, gold and me
Inspired by faith and family, Katie Taylorblazed a trail for Irish sport and Irish women at the London Olympics. In the first of two extracts from her new book, she talks about negotiating her way through the hype and to the final.
Rituals are important
As far back as I can remember, I dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion and I imagined standing on the podium and having the gold medal placed around my neck. Most kids have big dreams like that, every child wants to be a professional footballer or a great champion or a movie star but for most people, life has a way of telling you that you're wasting your time with fanciful dreams. I guess I never got that memo! As I got older and became more involved with sport, my child-like dreams became my desires and my desires became my ambitions, until winning an Olympic gold medal became the most important personal goal of my life. I didn't even know what my sport would be at that time, I just knew there was an Olympic champion in my heart.
Mam was with me on the morning of the Olympic final against Sofya Ochigava. She had come over to my apartment in the athletes' village in Stratford in the east end of London to help me prepare for the bout. In a few hours' time I would fight against the Russian for the gold medal, and after that my Olympics would be over.
After nearly 150 fights and four world championship gold medals, she doesn't need to ask me what I want her to do, our preparation is the same every time. She picked up my hairbrush, wet my hair as she always does, and began to put it into plaits.
I was standing with my back to her and, as she was doing my hair, she prayed out loud over me. I could sense the emotion in her voice but she had to hold it together for my sake, this is perhaps the most important part of my pre-fight ritual. Ma repeated some of Psalm 18 to me, which is one of my favourite pieces from the scriptures. This is a psalm that I regularly read when I am away in competition. It is a reminder that it is God that trains my mind for battle and He is my shield of victory.
The focus of our prayers was to ask that I performed to the best of my ability and that I was able to express that ability when I stepped into the ring later. It was also about praying that God would help me deal with any negativity that might creep into my mind, or any comments from outside that might distract me. I tried to listen to what He was saying about me and not what other people were saying. It was important for me to be reminded that my Olympic dream began first in the heart of God before it ever began in me - this was my God-given destiny.
The night before, Mam had spent some time praying about what scripture she was going to read to me. It's never a random choice of words plucked from the pages of the Bible. She wants the meaning to be specific to the moment and to my needs, something that she could share with me that would give me assurance and confidence.
Mam is my spiritual rock and she is as much a part of my boxing team as anyone else, but she also has a great understanding of the sport. It may surprise you to learn that she was the first in our family to challenge the view that women and boxing don't mix, for in the late 1980s she became the first female judge to be appointed in Ireland. Needless to say, she faced a lot of opposition at that time from within the boxing community but now it is commonplace to see female judges and referees. I like to think that I have carried on her pioneering spirit.
For my final against Sofya Ochigava, Mam picked a scripture from the book of Isaiah that speaks about what God said about people with faith: 'That no weapon formed against you will prevail and that you will refute every tongue that accuses you and that this is the heritage of those that belong to the Lord.'
That might seem like a strange choice of scripture from all of the promises of the Bible, but it was exactly what I needed to hear, because my Russian opponent had been publicly saying some bad things about me in the days leading up to the final. I didn't know at the time exactly what she had said, but I knew she had been disrespectful.
These verses reminded me that Ochigava's critical words were just dirty tactics in an attempt to undermine my confidence in my Olympic dream. The words were a promise that God will shield me from any negativity and accusations that are thrown in my direction. If I had spent any energy before the fight dwelling on Ochigava's comments, then her tactics would have worked.
But the verses my mam gave me were telling me not to focus on who was standing opposite me in the ring, but to focus on the God who is always standing beside me, both in and out of the ring.
For those who think that I saw the fight as an opportunity to settle a score with Ochigava, I can honestly say that her words were not a motivating factor at all. Ochigava had said a lot of disrespectful things, but at the time I didn't fully realise the extent of what it was, as I had avoided the newspapers and was too focused on my own build-up to worry about anything else that might have been going on.
I had heard that negative words had been said only because a journalist came up to me after one of the earlier fights in the ExCeL Arena and mentioned it. Although it was in most of the newspapers and online, even now I don't fully know all the details. To be honest I was surprised with her, that sort of behaviour is usually more common in professional boxing than in the amateur code.