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Saturday 20 December 2014

Taylor made for this stage

THE aftermath of Katie Taylor's sensational bronze medal-winning performance yesterday was as intriguing in its own way as the bout itself.

Even if you hadn't witnessed her clinical destruction of the challenge of the talented Liverpool boxer Natasha Jonas, the buzz behind the scenes would have been enough to confirm that Katie Taylor is now firmly established worldwide as a bona fide boxing talent.

No. Make that sporting talent. Katie's fame has already begun to transcend her chosen sport. A sure sign of impending superstardom.

Just like in the National Stadium, the Mixed Zone at the ExCel Arena was crowded with men from Cork, Dublin, Fermanagh and Tyrone. But yesterday a new phenomenon could be spotted.

Men from Russia, America, Germany and just about any republic or principality you might care to mention. Surprisingly, given that this has been the first time women's boxing is included as an Olympic discipline, there seemed to be very few women. Hardly any, in fact. But that's another story, for another day.

Yesterday we all wanted to know what Katie made of the astonishing volume of support she had. Particularly considering that on the few occasions she's boxed in the National Stadium, the place was always far from sold out.

She said she loved it. But when you factor in the major titles she's won away from home - where she's boxed in front of disinterested or hostile crowds - you'd wonder whether, colourful and delirious though the enthusiasm was, it might prove to have been more a hindrance than a help.

Frustrating

Katie says not. It reminds her what a privilege it is to box for her country, her community.

For Pete, her coach, there's another consideration. "She couldn't hear a thing I was saying," he complains with a grin. "So it was a bit frustrating. But, really, the support was brilliant. Hopefully we'll get the same support for the next bout."

That Katie has been well schooled in the science of boxing by both her father, Pete, and her mother, Bridget, a former boxing official, is obvious. But, as the saying goes, 'Fail to prepare. Prepare to fail.' It was always noticeable over the years that hours after the crowd would have departed the old Point Depot following a professional boxing event, Katie was still around, with her parents, soaking up the atmosphere at the press conference, seeing, first hand, how professional boxers coped with success, failure and the sometimes off-the-wall questions put to them by people working in the media.

Yesterday Pete reminded me that he owes a debt to Brian Peters for including Katie on the undercard on the Bernard Dunne WBA super-bantamweight world title bout against Ricardo Cordoba in 2007 in the O2 Arena.

"She had that kind of ovation that night when we were on with Bernard," he recalled. "That was a great experience. It stood to her."

Katie fought Natasha before, at a multi-nations tournament last year. She won then too. But had her opponent added any new surprises since then?

"She definitely caught me with a few long backhands," Katie admitted. "And my Da told me she had a deceptively long reach and that I should look out for it. But sometimes I thought it was out of distance. I knew it was going to be such a tough contest that it would be a battle and that's exactly what I got."

More to the point, how pleased was Katie with her own performance on the day? A performance that the judges scored 5-2, 5-5, 9-4 and 9-7 across the four rounds.

"It was my first fight of the competition and it's always hard to get into the competition," she replied.

Tough

"I can always improve on a lot of small things. But I'm generally happy.

"It was such a tough fight and for a first fight to be so tough it's always going to be difficult to get through. But I'm happy."

Katie's win had set her up to meet the winner of the Cheng Dong (China) and Mavzuna Chorieva (Tajikistan) and as she was talking the screen on the wall behind her was showing another boxing upset.

The favourite from China was beaten by Chorieva.

Katie displays nimble footwork in avoiding any discussion of her next opponent.

But Pete shares his thoughts. "She's very explosive," he begins. "She's going to be a different fighter from the World Championships (when Katie beat Chorieva in the semi-finals).

"She's going to adjust her tactics so we're going to have to adjust ours as well. Cheng Dong is six foot and Chorieva is 5' 4" so she's very good.

"Katie boxed exceptionally well in the World Championships," says Peter.

"She's going to have to box at that level again to beat her here. Katie'll be at her best now.

"She needed that one fight to get rid of the nerves. It was a long wait and she's not sparred for eleven days.

"You've got to kind of grow into a tournament and now that she's been in, she's up and running."

Unmentionable

A Russian, direct from central casting, dares to mention the unmentionable. Says he: "Ochigava (Sofya, who Katie defeated in the final of the World Championships) is your biggest rival and she said recently that she thinks she won the last bout and that she's been preparing specifically for you. What do you have to say to that?"

We know Katie can box. But did you know she's more adept at coping with loaded questions than any of our politicians?

"Sofya is a fantastic boxer and a super person as well," replies Katie. "It's always going to be a difficult contest between the two of us so we'll she if she gets through her bout and I get through my bout. At the moment I'm just concentrating on each fight as it comes along."

Wednesday afternoon has become a Moment of Truth for Taylor. Once again, Pete, has the stats.

"She was sixty per cent there today," he says. "Next time she'll be eighty per cent.

"And in the final she'll be a hundred per cent."

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