Trailblazer'sjourney is just beginning
BOXING: IOC and Seb Coe have a prized athlete who stands for so much more than just boxing
KATIE TAYLOR’s fourth successive world title won’t make as much noise as a lost Euro 2012 football match or the first of the summer hurling, but her unbroken chain of podium finishes are becoming less easy to define in a world of sporting achievements or, indeed, contain.
Taylor’s unflinching ambition and her pioneering run from the first European belt in 2005 up to Saturday morning has made her the boxer on which the suave Seb Coe and the Olympic Games organising committee are pinning their London hopes.
The sport’s governing body and Olympic organisers understand the inaugural women’s competition needs an athlete that can send a message to the doubters, the misogynists and the old school cynics, who also once argued women could not run further than four laps of the track.
Even Sonia O’Sullivan in her early career was told to run 3000m, not 5,000m. She didn’t keel over when she won the 5,000m World Championships in Gothenburg.
Taylor, the Sky Sports ambassador, one of the few athletes the organisers chose to promote the games, and a fighter who has never been beaten in a serious competition in seven years, is expected to provide just that.
Her position in the sport is not just as a potential gold medallist but also the most attractive image they can find for women’s boxing and a benchmark by which all other purveyors of pain should measure themselves.
For the London Games this summer, she has not just been hired to promote and advertise the Olympic Games, but like sprinter Usain Bolt, Taylor herself is the advert.
When she qualified for the games last Wednesday and the tears flowed after Romanian Mihaela Lacatus defaulted in the quarter-final due to a neck injury, the 25-year-old called for any available wildcards to be given to the strongest contenders in the sport rather than to worthy no-hope candidates.
The global spread of boxing and the anomalous Olympic ideal of being simultaneously inclusive and exclusive is one thing, but favourable optics is another issue high in Taylor’s mind.
The five times European champion and four times world champion understands that in as much as she is a dedicated Christian in her private life, some evangelical zeal might be required when the world is watching in August.
Many will tune in to nit-pick and gripe and that explains Taylor’s lack of hesitation in calling for the most difficult opponents to be gathered in the Excel Arena – Cheng Dong (China), Gulsum Tatar (Turkey) and America’s Queen Underwood, who have not qualified.
Rather than a pleasing-to-the eye kaleidoscope of nations, which because of the quota system has excluded some of the best boxers, Taylor has ambitiously set her mind to winning the gold medal against the most talented her sport can offer.
It’s a selfless thought but caution may ask if it is too generous or entirely wise to take such ownership and responsibility for the success and acceptance of the Olympic event.
Underwood or Dong could be dropped in on Taylor in her first bout of London 2012, confounding a seeding system designed to reward the best boxers with the easiest draws.
“I think there are still a few wildcards to be given out still and it’s so important they give them out to the best boxers out there, the likes of Cheng Dong, Queen Underwood,” said Taylor last Wednesday. “There are so many boxers who deserve to be in the Olympics. It is so important for the sport. We need to showcase the best talent out there. I hope they make the right decision.”
When the Irish men arrived home from the Olympic Qualifiers in Trabzon last month, Peter Taylor stood outside the arrivals along with a small group of supporters. Taylor’s man, Adam Nolan, was one of the two, along with Paddy Barnes, that made it through the treacherous Turkish event and cemented their passage to London.
With Nolan in at welterweight and Katie now poised, Peter can take kudos from having guided two boxers from a team of six to the Olympic finals.
The two have never been anything but the package. Peter talks for Katie. He coaches Katie. He travels with her to tournaments. He speaks to her before the fight. He is in her corner during the fight and he is right on her shoulder when the questions come in hard and fast.
There is a comfort there that works both ways between daughter and father not dissimilar to Michael Carruth and his late father Austin, who was by his side in Barcelona for the welterweight gold medal 20 years go.
They have managed a spectacular run that has not yet ended and touches 46 major championship wins without defeat stretching back to before Tonsburg, Norway.
There Taylor stopped Eva Wahlström of Finland in the third round of their 60kg lightweight final to become European champion for the first time. An 18-year-old then, Ireland particularly was blind to her talent.
But as Coe and the IOC already understand, in Taylor they have a prized athlete who has the ability to transcend the phoney war surrounding women’s boxing.
The 25-year-old’s journey is just beginning.