Real fight for women’s boxing is outside the ring

Katie Taylor delivered another golden moment but the embrace of the Irish public and media has been at a distance this week

Katie Taylor (left) in action against Estelle Mossely during the 60kg final at the Polyvalent Arena in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Octavian Cocolos/Inpho

Katie Taylor (left) in action against Estelle Mossely during the 60kg final at the Polyvalent Arena in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Octavian Cocolos/Inpho

 

It seemed an unlikely end when the tears came to Katie Taylor and the words began to choke her up in Bucharest. An audible gasp of relief, the sense of accomplishment and pride that for several seconds washed over her; such was the brief passing expression of how much it all meant.

Rarely do we see the side of Taylor that harbours a constant and sometimes overbearing struggle to be constantly be at the top of the world. Her medals are not won without cost. Win, win, win it all seems so simple.

But the embrace of the Irish public and media has been at a distance this week in the hall in Calea Piscului, strangely so. It has been like a private audience with the artist watching them compose another piece, the rest of the world detached and maybe even disinterested.

Women’s boxing, even with Taylor at the helm spilling guts for Ireland, is a complex issue.

People admire her greatly, although, all they really know and expect, is that like an automaton she will always bring home a medal. Rallying for the Olympics and relative indifference between Games is often a way of life for the non-major sports with her success in boxing sometimes working against the perception of a sport with great depth.

Part of the reason for that is people rarely see Taylor fight, while the media pay lip service and again this week were conspicuously absent.

What doesn’t help either is another perception that women’s boxing has been hammered into an Olympic schedule by a gender quota driven IOC and only reluctantly embraced by the federation.

Political necessity

But at its heart there’s an Irish federation that doesn’t know how to or want to promote and market its athletes and while in Taylor’s case it could be seen to be gender driven, the men’s boxing team have also suffered from a flat lining public interest and no cohesive policy by boxing on how to sell their assets.

That indifference or perhaps ignorance has seeped into the way the media treat the careers of Olympic medal winning athletes and that includes Taylor.

But it was instructive to see this week, seven days before she beat Estelle Mossely in Saturday’s final on a unanimous decision, the first photographs posted on the tournament website. The promotional material for the Women’s European Boxing Championships was of a federation meeting taking place in the city. There were 11 men in the picture and one women.

Every slight is undermining with the thoughtlessness or lethargy at international level feeding into national governing bodies and picked up by the public.

But women’s boxing also has to grow and until it does some legitimate questions will be asked. The heavier classes looked less competitive and need filling in Romania.

At 69kg there were 14 boxers in the draw and at 75kg there were 10. At 81kg there just nine competing and in the 81+ class eight boxers rocked up and one win put them into a semi-final.

Taylor’s weight division of 60kg is solidly contested and maybe the most competitive of all the class’s as it’s a natural weight for a woman. The beaten French finalist Mossely had to contest five fights over the week for her silver medal and Taylor four as she received a bye in the first round.

There are easy medals and those areas are where the sports critics will look for ammunition, although there has already been talk of changing the categories to better suit women’s natural weights and size. In the face of it Taylor, who won all of her rounds in all of her bouts, doesn’t blink.

When she gathered herself and rebooted after beating Mossely, the gold medal not yet around her neck, her words and that of her father Pete were about the flaws as much as the winning of her sixth European gold medal.

Being the best is as much about a relentless mindset as much as a genetic lottery win.

“There are certainly things to get better,” she said. “I know myself I have so much to improve on. I was getting caught with a few shots there today. So my feints have to be way sharper.

“It definitely wasn’t a perfect performance. I knew myself I was making a few mistakes and I was falling short a few times with punches. I was getting caught so I have to do a lot of work on my legs and on my feints, technical things that make a huge difference at this level.”

Latter stages

Billy WalshZaur AntiaPete Taylor

“We won the European Championships but we have to look at it objectively as well,” said Pete. “You see the few mistakes she made there as well. All these girls are getting better so we have to keep getting better.

“Those mistakes will be gone by the time the World Championships come around. By the time Rio comes around Katie is going to be 40-50 per cent better than she is now. That’s what we want, to get better and better.”

Walsh, stacking up more Olympic medals than any other national coach in Ireland, was unwavering in his praise and also fearful that Taylor’s ambitions to win a seventh European title, defend her World title in November and win the next Olympics in Rio, may somehow be overlooked.

“People in Ireland probably don’t realise or won’t realise until she’s gone how good Katie Taylor is,” said Walsh. “She is the best athlete ever to come out of Ireland, the most consistent athlete. She’s just won the European Championship and after speaking to Pete and Zaur they’re talking about the things she needs to improve on.”

Walsh also struck a cautionary note about women’s boxing in Ireland. “They’re making progress,” he said. “If we are to have success, to have something after Katie Taylor we need to be in more of a full-time mode. Probably need some more support from the Sports Council to drive this thing on . . . There are some very talented girls in Ireland but we got to get behind them into a full -time system like the men.”

Flawless or not Taylor’s week was stunning, her ability and consistency occasionally freakish and always impressive.

Despite the imperfections of the final, her balance, movement and power were at a different level to Mossely. In the third round Taylor threw all of her weight forward into a left, planted her foot forward and stopped the punch. Mossely still looking to avoid the left felt Taylor’s right crashing in from nowhere. The simple reality is that few if any in the sport can do that. None of the rounds were in question.

Long time

“I know how hard it is to win any major. I know that . . . and I haven’t finished yet. I know what it’s like to be at the top of the pile. I’m definitely as hungry as ever, maybe more hungry.”

It seems such a long time since thousands gathered in Bray and her boxing gloves from the London Olympics were chosen as part of a History of Ireland in 100 Objects and exhibited in Collins Barracks. This week with her first major win since 2012, she has again added to the history.

Spread the word.

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