Peter Taylor’s daughter used to try to emulate his shadow-boxing moves in the kitchen. Now 26, she today became the first Olympic women’s lightweight champion.
Katie Taylor from Bray, 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of Dublin, won 10-8 in the final bout against Russia’s Sofya Ochigava at London’s ExCeL arena today, watched by a largely Irish crowd that’s followed her throughout the games.
“I feel like I’m boxing at home in Dublin,” she said after beating Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva in the semifinal yesterday, “It’s incredible having 10,000 Irish people screaming for you.”
Ireland had one bronze medal until today, won by Cian O’Connor in equestrian, making boxing its best chance for gold at the games. Taylor was the first of four Irish boxers to win a medal in London, with the other three guaranteed at least a bronze.
The nation is in a two-way tie for 38th place in the medal standings, which will change following the outcome of the male boxers’ semifinals. Ireland sent five men and a woman to compete in the Olympic boxing competition.
At least 2,000 people turned out on the main street of Bray to watch Taylor’s semifinal yesterday on two large screens, according to local police. The crowd included tricolor-waving supporters and children draped in the Irish flag and with green, white and gold painted on their faces.
Taylor entered the ring in London to “Only Girl (In the World)” by singer Rihanna. At home, the crowd cheered her into the arena with chants of “You’ll Never Beat the Irish.”
“She’s an inspiration and our most likely person to get a gold medal,” said Rebecca Creagh, a friend of Taylor who came to London to watch her fight. “We’ve a lot of grit and determination about us. We just like to produce, especially in a fight.”
Ireland’s strength in boxing is partly a result of the meager training facilities for pugilists, said George Boyd, secretary of the St. John Bosco boxing club in west Belfast, where Olympic flyweight Michael Conlan trains.
“If you see where Michael trains, you’d be shocked,” Boyd, 71, said in an interview. “We have no running water where he trains; he has to run up and down the stairs to go to the toilet. We have no showers, no heating. He makes his own heat.”
Conlan, 20, faces Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana in a semifinal tomorrow, where the loser will take bronze.
Also tomorrow, Carrazana’s 21-year-old teammate Lazaro Alvarez Estrada will fight Ireland’s John Joe Nevin for a spot in the bantamweight final.
Cuba is seeking to add to its 32 Olympic boxing gold medals after failing in 2008 to get one for the first time since 1968. The country’s tally of boxing golds is second only to the U.S., and heavyweights Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon won three each.
Rather than Cuba, Ireland’s boxing coaches have taken inspiration from the techniques used by Soviet-era trainers, according to Gerry Storey of the Holy Family boxing club in north Belfast, which has produced seven Olympians.
“Our lads are now getting the psychology training, strengthening training, weight training,” said Storey, who coaches Olympic light flyweight Paddy Barnes. “That was stuff the old Soviet boxers got in the 80s, when we were over fighting them. It’s been an evolutionary process for us. We’ve learned, we’ve got tougher.”
Barnes, a 25-year-old from Belfast, was greeted by cheers at the opening ceremony of the games after holding a sign that read “Open for Sponsors” and encouraging people to follow him on Twitter. So far, the 2008 bronze medalist says has received $500 from an American.
“I’m fighting a guy in my next fight who beat me 15-0 in Beijing,” Barnes told reporters. “My plan for the next fight is go out and just score a point. Just that one point, that’ll be my Olympic gold.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Spillane at London’s ExCel Arena on at email@example.com.