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Sonia O’Sullivan: Katie Taylor’s drive to be the best is insatiable

Katie has transformed herself from Rio to being greater than she has been before

WBA world lightweight champion Katie Taylor during her homecoming press conference at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

I never really paid much attention to boxing. I sometimes feel I’m still beginning to understand the sport, the complexities of it, especially women’s boxing. Just because someone tastes some success in one sport doesn’t mean they automatically understand what it takes to succeed in another. 

This thought occurs to me whenever Katie Taylor is fighting. On the Olympic and amateur stage, and now on the professional circuit, Katie is already considered the greatest women’s boxer of all time, still leading the way, a pioneer of her sport. 

I just wish I knew a little more about that it takes for her to succeed, or the strength of her opponents. We get snippets of her training, her focus, her desire. Her dedication is second to none, but sometimes it feels like it’s a sport where there is no finish line. 

The result is also in the eyes of the judges, and the hands of the referee. You only have to look back to the Rio Olympics to see how a lifetime of work and dedication can be taken away by a subjective decision. 

I was a runner. I ran laps of the track, sometimes a straight line down the road, or else maybe a few twists and turns of the cross-country course. But there were never too many hurdles or objects in the way. 

Train hard, prepare well, and believe in yourself. The gun goes off, and the winner is first across the finish line.

Of course, there are some mind games and tactics. Every race is different, but at an essential level anyone could walk into the room, look up at the television, see what was going on, and understand the result. 

Katie Taylor celebrates with her belt after claiming the WBA lightweight title. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

I wonder what it would be like to spend a day in the life of Katie. Not just to see the training, the preparation, but what is required to go for months in advance of a big fight with no warm-up competitions. Just train, train, train, then straight into the ring. As an athlete I was always looking to the next challenge, another step up in level to test myself against the best there is. How disappointing it must be when your opponent in that test shows up for the competition and can’t even make the required weight. That’s what happened with Anahi Esther Sanchez from Argentina last Saturday night in Cardiff. If anything it makes Katie’s commitment all the greater. 

Taylor must have been thinking this girl can’t be serious if she can’t even make the weight. Or is she playing mind games? 

In that sense Katie must have felt she already had an edge as she stepped into the ring at the Principality Stadium. I only saw some very brief clips of the fight, but enough to see the power of Katie on the night. I was in Germany over the weekend for a symposium on road-running, and also to attend to the Frankfurt marathon, so I didn’t get to see or hear any of the informed coverage in Ireland in the lead-up and after the fight.

What the Frankfurt marathon has also caught on to is the idea of sport being used as entertainment. What was interesting was the indoor finish line in the Grand FestHalle. It could just as easily have been the stage of a boxing match. 

The setting was inside a grand theatre, strobe lighting, loud music, dancing cheerleaders, and a growing crowd as children got to cross the finish line ahead of the marathon runners.

There has always been that element of entertainment in boxing even if Katie appears somewhat distant from it all. Apart from the London Olympics, where I saw her fight, I’ve only met Katie at a couple of times at award ceremonies in Dublin. She certainly doesn’t come across as the same person you see inside the boxing ring – she is softly spoken, kind and devout and nothing but gentle.

How can this same person be so strong and throw punches like she does? It’s like a complete transformation from the moment she steps into the ring, with an aura of strength and invincibility that disappears as soon as her arm is raised in victory. There are times in an athlete’s career when they are so dominant and invincible they can do no wrong. Katie has transformed herself again since Rio, from a shadow of herself to greater than she’s ever been before.

Taylor catches Anahi Sanchez with a left hook. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

And when she says there is more to come you can only believe her. 

Athletes in all sports feel they can do better when they are at the top of their game, the confidence and belief oozes so much that even when you reach new heights it feels easier than it should. And so you instinctively feel that you can do so much more.

It’s all about the energy and motivation, and this goes for almost everything in life. If you get up in the morning with a positive attitude, a plan of action and parameters for the day, then you are much more likely to achieve what you set out to do and more . 

There is nothing worse than having to wait for someone to turn up. It can feel like your day is on hold and in somebody else’s hands. 

When I look at Katie now I see discipline, structure and routine. She is building blocks every day, one on top of the other, getting fitter and stronger and better.

Which also makes me think one day in the life of Katie would not be enough to understand what she does. There is only so much you can fit into each day. 

It’s a bit like when someone asks me what training sessions did I do, what was my routine. I could rattle off a few variations of sessions but in reality these don’t mean a lot on their own. It’s more to do with what you do the day before, the day after, and every other day of the week. A single session is a bit like one piece of the jigsaw puzzle. If you give it away it’s not much use to anyone. If it’s missing then the rest of the pieces are not much use either. I often feel a bit single-minded, and find myself comparing all sorts of sports to running and racing. Boxing is a different prospect. 

That is the thing with great athletes. They are made up of so many pieces, so much more than the result of a competition. And so many sports we watch and admire are made look easy by those at their best.

I think I’m beginning to appreciate that about Katie Taylor. She can and is absolutely intent on being the best she can be, still without a finish line in sight, as she embarks on matching her amateur achievements in the professional world.

To next appreciate that would be to get close to the action in Dublin next year.