Katie Taylor: Four rounds to excel
We had prepared for this situation well in advance of the final, back in the gym in Bray and in my training camps leading up to the Games. I went into the third round knowing that I could turn it around, largely because Dad had hand-picked my sparring for this type of fight against a boxer like Ochigava. Before I came to London, I had been doing a lot of rounds with Eric Donovan, who is a brilliant Irish southpaw, and an established international boxer. He also came to the Olympic training camp in Assisi with me so I could get as much practice as possible against his southpaw, counter-attacking style.
Eric told me that he thought I was in the best shape of my life when we left Assisi. Dad has always tried to find the right sparring partners to help prepare for specific opponents, and we had done quite a lot of work with southpaws in the weeks before heading to London. Michael Nevin, another strong southpaw, was also brought in. He met John Joe Nevin (who went on to win a silver medal in the Olympics) in the finals of the Irish Senior Championships earlier in 2012.
I also sparred with Dean Walsh, who is the nephew of Ireland head coach Billy Walsh. He is a really tall boxer, and I had done some work with him in case I came up against the Chinese fighter Cheng Dong at some point during the Olympics. Cheng, at six feet, is one of the tallest fighters in the women’s game.
Although it’s never possible to completely imitate a fighter in training, I did try as much as possible to spar against people who adopted the same style as my likely opponents, or even found people with a similar body shape to work with. These small things can make a difference. And that is especially true when you consider that the guys I was training with were faster and stronger than anyone I was ever going to meet in the Olympic Games.
Lads like Eric Donovan and Bray club-mate Stephen Coughlan were exactly the calibre of spar I needed, and Dad would even remind me of the quality of my sparring partners to give me confidence before fights. When preparing me for Ochigava, he would say to me: “This girl is nothing compared to Eric Donovan” or “This girl isn’t nearly as strong as the men you spar in the club”.
For years now, I have worked with some great-quality sparring partners in Ireland, boxers who were better than the girls I was competing against in championships. When you consider that among those I spar with are double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes, Olympic bronze flyweight Michael Conlan and even sometimes bantamweight silver medallist John Joe Nevin, you can see that I was working with the best that Ireland has to offer. There is no doubt that being surrounded by this kind of talent has played a part in my own success.
Sparring with the top male boxers doesn’t make for an easy life when it comes to training, because I have to be able to raise my level to hold my own. But that’s what you need in any sport: to push yourself hard when you practice. It’s especially true in boxing, for as Dad says: “In football if you have a bad day, you may lose a game, but in boxing if you have a bad day, somebody is probably punching you in the face!”
That ability to raise my level of performance had rarely been more crucial than it was now, and I did exactly that in the defining third round against Ochigava. By the end of the two minutes, I had overturned the deficit. I was now two points ahead overall after my best phase in the fight, with the score reading 7-5. I had to be more aggressive in the third round, but not in the same way I was against Jonas in the quarter-finals; this fight required a more controlled and tactical aggression. I was getting closer before letting off my combinations and then avoiding her attacks at the same time. I won the round 4-1. It was the pivotal spell in the contest and entirely changed the fight around in my favour. I knew then that she was going to have to move out of her normal pattern and attack me more in the last round if she wanted to win. I would have to be ready for her.