LONDON — Good Lord, I can only imagine the tears that would have been shed back home if Katie Taylor had not won the gold.
For reasons only they know, this 26-year-old boxer has been adopted as the nation’s princess, if not queen. I grew up in a thoroughly Irish atmosphere, and I would have said the epitome of what a male of Irish descent thinks is appropriate athletic endeavor for the female of the species is step-dancing. The idea of some sweet young thing pounding an adversary about the face and stomach before frenzied fans would have been both distasteful and unimaginable.
But the Irish have taken to the young lady from Bray in County Wicklow with an enthusiasm that borders on mania. The Irish media had practically declared it to be her sacred duty to win the gold. And so she has, defeating Russian Sofya Ochigava, a familiar foe, by a taut, and perhaps debatable, 10-8 score to win the 60 kilogram, or lightweight, class.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “It’s such a relief to have this gold medal around my neck.”
Indeed, she is the daughter of a fighter and she has been preparing herself for this moment since she was 10 or 11, as fairy-talish as that sounds.
The doors were thrown open two hours before the afternoon’s competition, and in streamed the Katie Taylor Fan Club. There would be two other gold medal bouts, one pitting Great Britain’s Nicola Adams against Chinese fighter Ren Cancan and the other featuring American destroyer Claressa Shields against Russian Nadezda Torlopova. But in the hearts and minds (and lungs) of at least 80 percent of the crowd at the ExCel Arena, the other bouts were the undercards. The Taylor fight might as well have been staged in downtown Dublin.
How the Irish supporters scooped up so many tickets, I don’t know, but they did. There were countless green shirts. There were scores and scores of green-white-and-orange Irish flags. There were equal scores of green-white-and-orange wigs.
And, of course, there were numerous banners and signs.
BRING IT HOME KATIE
GOLD KATIE GOLD
KATIE TAYLOR MADE FOR GOLD
And plenty more.
The object of this affection doesn’t seem to be dripping with charisma. She is polite and, it would seem, humble, but she seems shy. “I’m not good at press conferences,” she confessed.
But if she is a bit lacking in braggadocio, she is one determined young lady. What 10-year-old girl, even if her dad is a fighter, dreams of being an Olympic boxing champion, especially when there isn’t even any Olympic boxing for women, and won’t be until three years before this opportunity to win a gold materialized? Printed Irish references classify her training regimen as “monastic.” She has sacrificed a lot to get where she is, no doubt.
Prior to London 2012, she had won four world championships. Some had labeled her as the best female boxer in the world, amateur or professional, but, as is true in so many disciplines, world championships are nice to have on the résumé, but the item you most want in your portfolio is an Olympic gold medal.
She blasted her way through to the finals, whipping Natasha Jonas of Great Britain and Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan by a combined score of 43-24, which is a demonstration of immense superiority. All that stuff was going to end, because Ochigava was going to be a different matter. She had known what it was like to have her hand raised in victory in a bout against the Irish lass, and she clearly felt she could experience that feeling again.
So while the staunchly pro-Katie crowd chanted and cheered and sang, Ochigava was unfazed. Taylor’s two previous bouts had been marked by furious activity. She had come out swinging both times. Now she was in against a foe who knew her and was unimpressed with the hype and the crowd.
Taylor was a different fighter. Not a punch was thrown in the first 20 seconds in either Round 1 or 2 as the fighters, obviously wary of each other’s power and skill, danced and feinted and waited for an opening.
After one round, it was tied (2-2). After two rounds, Ochigava actually led (4-3).
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” Taylor would say.
But after three rounds, Taylor was in a 7-5 lead, and I wish I knew why. You’ve heard and read a lot of negative opinions about this impenetrable Olympic scoring process, and it’s all true. If the judges say Taylor dominated the third round to the tune of 4-1, OK, that’s their call. But I really don’t know where that came from, and neither did Ochigava, I don’t believe.
Ochigava’s frustration was only beginning. The crowd was really into it during the fourth, and final, two-minute round. Ochigava was fighting for her life, and she seemed to have a very good round, a great one when you consider she knocked Ireland’s pride and joy to the canvas with about 35 seconds remaining. Taylor did get up to deliver a stinging right with 10 seconds left, but the round sure appeared to be a very good one for Ochigava.
Even though it was going to take a 3-point triumph to do it, Ochigava obviously thought she had won the fight. And there was a longer-than-usual wait for the announcement. The PA man finally announced a 10-8 verdict for Taylor, meaning the third round had been scored 3-3. The crowd erupted in joy.
Katie celebrated. Olga fumed. Male, female, doesn’t matter. Olympic boxing is Olympic boxing. The only safe way to win a bout is to hear the referee count 10 over a stretched-out opponent.
Will anyone in the Emerald Isle remember any of this? You kidding? They’ll talk about the way Katie knocked that Rooshian girl six ways to Sunday. She’s their princess. Grab a Guinness and start singing, “Katie,” “Katie’s Gonna Get You,” or even “The Fields of Athenry.” Katie Taylor has brought home the gold.