'This is what dreams are made of'
MARK THIS date: it will always belong to Katie Taylor. At 4.45pm, the Bray woman will fight for an Olympic gold medal and complete a fabulous journey that started on those childhood evenings when she watched her father, Peter, shadow box across the floor of the family kitchen.
It promises to be extraordinarily moving and amid the bedlam of the ExCel boxing arena – where it always feels like ten o’clock at night – there will be echoes of Ronnie Delany’s immortal run in Melbourne or Sonia O’Sullivan’s redemption day in Sydney: whatever happens, this will be one of those sporting moments that become part of the story of Ireland.
“This is what I dreamed of all my life and now I have the chance to box for a gold medal,” Taylor beamed after dispatching Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan in the silver medal bout yesterday afternoon in front of British prime minister David Cameron and a fervent Irish crowd.
“The support out there is unbelievable: I feel like I’m boxing at home in Dublin, really – 10,000 Irish people screaming for me, this is what dreams are made of and hopefully I can make everyone proud.”
All the Irish boxers have been a source of pride. Last night Paddy Barnes became the first Irish boxer ever to win medals in two Olympic Games when he outpunched Devondro Singh Laishram to earn bronze in the men’s flyweight. Whatever happens, Barnes sits in august company; Pat O’Callaghan is the only Irishman to ever achieve that, back in the jazz age Olympics of 1928 and 1932.
But in London, the secret is out now on Katie Taylor. For years, her luminosity was confined to the snippets of fights in faraway places she went to reclaim the world championship belt she has owned since 2006. Here in London yesterday, she had the opportunity to showcase the bewitching combination of speed and grace and lethal technical excellence.
The big arena is a dark vault of a place but Taylor is such a luminous presence that she both lights it up and shrinks it. She owned the canvas yesterday and although Chorieva tried to lure and taunt her out of her precise, elegant rhythm, it was a lost cause for her. Taylor won 17-9 and the only time she seemed star struck was when she discovered that Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given was among the crowd.
“Was he?” she asks, her eyes lighting up and nodding when asked if he was one her heroes. “Yeah. He is such a huge star at home . . . that is amazing.”
At ringside though, Taylor’s concentration has been glacial. Sometimes her father permits himself to sneak a quick look around the auditorium and finds the wave of fond energy – of love and admiration and huge pride in his daughter – overwhelming.
“There is meant to be a recession in Ireland. People with their hard-earned cash are coming over here and spending it to support Katie,” he said emotionally after the fight. “What can you say? Unbelievable, like. It brings tears to your eyes.”
And it is unbelievable. Taylor was already 10 years old when the ban on women’s boxing in England was repealed. By then, she had already set off on this fabulously individual path. Her faith and a monastic devotion to her craft have brought her to the point where she is the nation’s sweetheart Katie. Only Sofya Ochigave stands in her way now. It will be nail-biting: the Russian has beaten her before.
“Nobody is looking forward to boxing Katie, you know. I would say the fight will be very cagey, same as the world championships I should think,” Peter Taylor says.
It is about who holds their nerve. It’s going to be a battle of nerves. Not one for the armchair viewers.” But who could bear not to look when Katie Taylor fights?
She is a marvel.