Boxing: Green machine purrs as golden girl delivers
Katie Taylor had the raucous support of thousands on both sides of the Irish Sea
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Friday 10 August 2012
The roars that erupted from the ExCeL and the town of Bray yesterday must have been audible from space when Katie Taylor's speed, grace and aggression won gold for Ireland.
Her supporters went buck mad, leaping and jumping in a frenzy of celebration as she became the Olympic women's lightweight champion and Ireland's most popular sporting hero.
The Irish, who love a party and love a victory, had been sorely in need of something to cheer as they wearily trudge their way through their deep recession. The 26-year-old Taylor gave it to them, lifting their hearts.
In both Bray and London arms were waved in ecstasy when it was confirmed, after a few heart-stopping moments, that she had won. The fans almost burst with pride and joy. They themselves had played their part, a sea of green providing such a wall of pro-Katie noise in the ExCel Arena that she fought in front of what was essentially a home crowd.
What a welcome awaits her when she returns home: already they are calling her the greatest Irish sportswoman ever, and there will be exuberant victory parades. She was already a fairly high-profile figure in Ireland but now, as the star of Ireland's most memorable Olympic Games, she has become a living legend.
A fresh tumult of sound burst out when the presentations took place in the ring with her opponent, Olga Ochigava of Russia, looking understandably rueful. The silver medallist had apparently tried to unsettle Taylor with a few mind games but the Irishwoman stayed focused, following the instructions on a Bray banner which advised: "Knock the 50 shades of Bray outta her."
Irish male boxers are still in the Olympics, but her achievement has propelled her to national and indeed international stardom. Her victory has opened a whole new era in Irish sport, for she will be the role model for a generation of girls here.
Some have reservations about the idea of women boxing, and it is true that Taylor is a pugnacious and determined warrior – Lennox Lewis has spoken of her "killer instinct" – but as yesterday's performance demonstrated, in the ring she manages to be simultaneously aggressive and yet calm, composed and assured.
Outside the ring her personality is modest, courteous and slightly shy. After her victories she offers thanks to God for her gifts. And as anybody in Bray will tell you, she is endlessly helpful and encouraging to the town's youngsters.
She has been boxing since she was a kid, coached by her English father, Peter Taylor. When she was 11 she said in a TV interview: "I'm going to go all the way to the very top." Nor has it been at the cost of her education: her old headmaster says she did well in exams despite the hours of training, describing her as "very bright and academically very strong."
Even before she won yesterday's bout she was regarded as probably the strongest female boxer in her class, winning several successive world championship titles. But an Olympic gold was always her dream, and it was largely due to her own campaigning that women's boxing was introduced to the Games.
Her gold will have transformed her into one of the best-known and best-liked personalities in Ireland, the country's new golden girl. A song was already out in praise of "Katie Taylor, Ireland's boxing legend" – which predicted, confidently and as it turned out accurately, that "the wee girl from Bray has gone all the way."
A local politician captured the national mood when he said: "She has a humility rarely associated with such achievement. We thank her for bringing so much joy and for shining a light into all our hearts."
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