Taylor caps off a truly vintage year

Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 00:00

There, after the bell had sounded on her Olympic final bout, she stood suspended in nervous wonder, as the judges reviewed their scores, waiting for the moment that had occupied her dreams for over a decade.

Here, she sat for lunch among her fellow nominees, reverentially calm, waiting for the latest round of recognition that has followed, another moment that may as well have been written in scripture.

Katie Taylor, 2012 Sportswoman of the Year – and for the third time in six years.

There was never going to be any arguing about this one, no split decision, an award as utterly justified, as distinctly unanimous, as perfectly deserving as that very moment she created in London last August, stopping her and all of our hearts in the process.

Eight years ago, this newspaper, and now supported by the Irish Sports Council, felt the need to give women in sport a little more recognition. But no one could have predicted a year of such seismic shift towards the achievements of one woman, the 26-year-old from Bray, who surpassed everything and anything every other man and woman achieved in sport in 2012.

It wasn’t just that Taylor extended Ireland’s Olympic gold medals to nine, or delivered the country’s first boxing gold since Michael Carruth, exactly 20 years before: her technical brilliance and controlled fierceness sealed the deal on a debut Olympic sport for women that perhaps had to impress in London in order to survive.

Vintage season

Taylor’s outright victory, however, also caps off another vintage season for Irish women, reflected in the 11 other monthly winners named over the past year, from 11 different sports: athletics, show jumping, rugby, hockey, horse racing, boxing, golf, sailing, swimming, camogie and Gaelic football.

Included, too, were four fellow Olympians: Annalise Murphy won the July award for her dazzling start to her sailing campaign in London, before suffering the bitter disappointment of finishing fourth in the medal race. Sycerika McMahon also swam in London, aged just 17, and was named the November award winner for winning a bronze medal, narrowly missing out on another at the European short course championships in France.

Fionnuala Britton was mixing it with the very best in London, too, although she was awarded here for winning the European Cross Country title in Slovenia in December of last year, not to be confused with winning it back again in Budapest earlier this month – which will almost certainly win her the next December award. Most fitting too was the inclusion of Bethany Firth, another teenager, who collected the August award for her gold medal at the London Paralympics.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in presenting the awards, acknowledged their spirit and energy, “each one a credit to themselves, their families, their gender, and their sport”, adding that they each had the “DNA to make it in their chosen field”.

Malachy Logan, sports editor of The Irish Times, introduced Taylor as the outright winner, to a standing ovation. “It’s just been unbelievable,” said Taylor, still trying to make sense, justifiably so, of the last 12 months of her life – the pressure, expectation, then sheer elation and recognition that came with it.

“But these awards have always been my favourite. I was lucky to have been nominated a few times in the past, but this year, yes, has been so, so special. And it’s been a huge family affair, too,” thanking her father, Pete, and mother, Bridget, who accompanied her.

 

Road to Rio

Taylor is already carving out a road to Rio and the defence of her Olympic title: earlier this week she announced her first contest since London, at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin on February 24th.

Since then, Taylor has been slated to fight for a second time at the same venue after tickets for the first bout sold out in record time. Taylor will now meet opponents to be confirmed at the venue on February 24th and March 22nd.

With the European Championships scheduled for 2013, then another World Championships in 2014, in Canada, she won’t be resting on the laurels that come with these awards for long. “I’ll have two days off over Christmas, that’s it,” she added. “My job now is becoming two-time Olympic champion. It has been so long since I have been in the ring, and this is where all the hardship begins.”

It was the year she almost single-handedly pushed the sport to the top of the agenda.

“I recall watching it on holiday in France,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, editor of The Irish Times, “and it was pure sporting drama, that tore at our heart strings, and unquestionably our biggest year in sport in modern times.”

And no more worthy outright winner at the end of it.

The judging panel for the monthly and overall sportswomen of the year winner were Mary Hannigan of The Irish Times, Lindie Naughton of the Evening Herald, and Greg Allen of RTÉ Radio.

Monthly winners 2012

December 2011: Fionnuala Britton (Ath)

January: Jessica Kürten (Equestrian)

February: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)

March: Audrey O’Flynn (Hockey)

April: Katie Walsh (Horse racing)

May: Katie Taylor (Boxing)

June: Stephanie Meadow (Golf)

July: Annalise Murphy (Sailing)

August: Bethany Firth (Swimming)

September: Ursula Jacob (Camogie)

October: Rena Buckley (Gaelic football)

November: Sycerika McMahon (Swimming)

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