Katie Taylor holds her nerve in Baku to earn gold medal shot

World champion edges a split decision over Yana Alekseevna and a partisan home crowd

It was at times unbearable tense and not helped by the wildly partisan crowd, and then came the enormous relief, as Katie Taylor just about out-classed her Azerbaijani opponent to earn her place in the European Games final bout - and with that a shot at championship gold medal number 18.

It was unquestionably the most anxious wait for a decision since Taylor’s Olympic gold medal bout in London, and with Azerbaijani gold medal hope Yana Alekseevna her opponent, the Baku crowd here were certainly vying for one fighter only, and truth is it could well have gone either way.

In the end it was decided on a split decision, all four judges splitting the four rounds evenly between Taylor and Alekseevna: what possibly won it for the Bray fighter was the couple of strong punches towards the end of the last round, just as at judges were making their minds up.

“Yeah, things like that definitely catch the judges’ eye, at end of the round as well,” said Taylor, the relief written all over her face. “That cemented the fourth round for me. I felt I was down after the third round, and had to put the pressure on her again, try to win the round clearly. That last round was all about heart, and it was close. She’s a fantastic boxer, so I’m just delighted to have another gold medal fight now.”


Still, even when the referee called the two fighters into the middle of the ring to announce the decision, no one could be certain which way it would go: did Taylor ever fear she had lost?

“Well no, I was always hopeful, and just praying. It was close, as I expected, and I’m just happy to get through.

“It was a close fight, but it was always going to be a closer fight. She’s one of the top boxers, and this is the semi-final of the European Games. But I felt I won the rounds quite clearly, but there have been a few rounds given against me, in this contest.

“But I don’t care, once I’m through to another final. And Thank God for a great performance, and a great victory. Everyone at home has been praying for, and I’m strengthened by that, encouraged by that. And if I wouldn’t be nowhere in life without God in my life, so I just have to give him all the glory.

“I think experience is everything is these big fights. You can’t buy experience, and I’ve been in this situation so many times before. I know how it feels to lose fights as well, and I never want to feel that way again.

Taylor was hit with a couple of open punches in the first round, and the judges handed that to Alekseevna, 29-28. As if sensing that, Taylor raised the tempo in the second round, and claimed that one for herself, 29-28. But there was a strong rally from Alekseevna in the third round, and she claimed that one, 29-28, and it seemed as if Taylor might be in trouble.

Was there any fear that maybe the judges might favour the home fighter?

“No, I always think the judges will be fair. The atmosphere was fantastic, and I relish those fights. Every time she landed a punch the crowd were cheering, but I could hear a few Irish shouts in there as well, which was great. That made the atmosphere even better. And it was like that at the finish. They celebrated a bit themselves, as if they had won it, but again I was praying myself, so I’m delighted to have it.

So, that set up another gold medal bout for the Bray fighter, her lightweight final set for tomorrow (2pm Irish time), where her opponent will be Estelle Mossely from France, who won her semi-final bout Tasheena Bugar from Germany, in pretty convincing fashion. Mossely won all four rounds against the German, winning on a unanimous decision, and certainly looking well capable of putting up a good fight against Taylor.

There will also be a gold medal bout tomorrow for Michael O'Reilly, who was given a bye into his middleweight final, after his scheduled opponent this morning, the Russian Maxim Koptyakov, withdrew due to a failed medical, having suffered an eye laceration in his quarter-final.

However Sean McComb lost his lightweight semi-final bout to the local fighter Albert Selimov from Azerbaijani, although McComb still goes home with a bronze medal.

But there will be no medal for number one badminton seed Scott Evans after he was dumped out in the quarter-final stage by Emil Holst of Denmark 21-17, 21-14. At least there was another guaranteed bronze medal - at least - after Chloe and Sam Magee won their mixed-doubles quarter-final against the Polish pair, Pawel Pietryja and Aneta Wojtkowska, 21-18; 21-12

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics