Katie Taylor digs deep to deliver gold
Katie Taylor – Olympic Champion! We could scarcely believe it.
The frazzled fans in London’s ExCeL arena erupted in deafening celebration – pure joyous pandemonium – pictures repeated across the water, particularly in Katie’s home town, where thousands gathered for an extraordinary evening provided by their homegrown heroine.
Dancing and crying, laughing and embracing, they soaked in the scenes they will remember forever.
Just before six in the evening came the coronation of Queen Katie. When she walked out for her medal ceremony, causing palpitations among the ranks of the delirious, the arena shimmered green with Tricolours. Everyone wanted a piece of the moment – cameras, phones, iPads held up to capture the occasion.
First the bronze medals, as the crowd fought the urge to indulge in premature exultation. Then the silver, sulkily accepted by the runner-up, disdainfully folding her arms as she stepped up to receive it.
The stadium booed. Katie smiled.
And it happened. It actually happened. 26-year-old Katie Taylor from Bray, who had dreamed of this moment since she was a little girl, stepped on to that legendary podium.
The fans cut loose – astonishingly, they still had a lot more welly in the tank and emitted a primal roar, so loud and so relieved and so heartfelt that it brought us out in goosebumps.
Ireland’s Olympic champ raised her arms in triumph, pointed a winner’s finger in the air. Then she took her medal, caressed and kissed it.
Committed Christian Katie looked skywards, mouthing her thanks to God.
“Please stand for the national anthem of Ireland.” The Tricolour was hoisted upwards to the top spot by naval officers in full dress uniform.
We stood. And we sang. Never before, said the non-partisans, had they seen the like. The anthem was sung like never before, rattling the rafters, belted out, all the words, with breathtaking fervour.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It was spine-tingling. And then the tears came.
“I’m not ashamed to say it, I were crying meself,” sniffed a journalist from the north of England in the press tribune.
Kate Middleton, future queen of England, watched Katie win. But she left before the anthem. Still there was Princess Anne, and British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern watched from a far corner of the upper stand with friends and slipped away anonymously.
Even Sofya, the runner-up, smiled and she embraced her vanquisher. The atmosphere was irresistible.
The Irish didn’t want to leave the arena. Neither did Katie, who had waited and worked for 16 years to get that gold.
As she was leaving the arena in the official parade, somebody gave Taylor a Tricolour. She draped it over her shoulders and ran a jubilant lap of honour, the spotlight tracing her skipping path. Just this once, the always calm and composed Katie didn’t go quietly amid the noise and haste.
Ireland’s first Olympic boxing champion in 20 years met the media a few minutes later. She didn’t look like she had just come through a bruising encounter, her dark brown hair scraped back in a pony tail, hazel eyes sparkling and pale skin unblemished. “This is all I have ever dreamed of,” she said.
“I knew Katie would come through. I knew it was her destiny to win the Olympics,” said Peter – her trainer, mentor and Dad.
“I nearly had a stroke,” said Minister for Sport Michael Ring.
Yesterday’s final was Taylor’s toughest fight of her short Olympic campaign. It was close, too damn close, between Ireland’s four-time world champion and Russia’s Sofya Ochigava.
After the final bell went, a tense hush fell over the darkened arena. Excitement and dread became stomach-churning companions as the judges took an age to reach their decision. This was heart attack territory. Ochigava threw shapes. Katie stayed calm.
And the rest of us fretted. Ireland took a deep breath and held hands. The result was in doubt until the last second. Then the referee raised the hand of the Lady in Red. And it was Olympic gold for Ireland.
What a day. The crowd sang all the way out. Foreign news crews gathered on the upper gangways to film the astonishing scenes. Fields of Athenry. Molly Malone. Bray Girl in the Ring.
A group of lads wearing green tights and Indian headdress held up a huge banner. “Yes, She Can!” And yes, God yes, she did . . . Gold. At long, long last.
Thank you, Katie Taylor.