Had it not been for the perseverance and sheer grit shown by our nation’s shining star, boxing at the Olympics would be a far cry from what we know it as today.
Katie Taylor has long been regarded as Ireland’s most honourable, talented and commendable athlete. The two-weight world champion has for a long time acted as a role model for many young girls, women, boys and men included, in a sporting career which has seen her rise to the pinnacle of her sport and become the global standard setter within the ring - and at times outside of it.
One story in particular, from what is a long list of fascinating achievements, is Taylor’s influence on having women’s boxing finally accepted as an Olympic competition.
Despite history suggesting that women have been a participating party in boxing virtually since its inception, female boxers rather ironically had to fight tooth and nail just to have the sport accepted into the highest level of global competition.
One woman so influential in this decision was Bray woman, Katie Taylor. In what was a verdict so well overdue, Taylor was influential in getting women’s boxing over the line as a competing sport in the Olympic Games. At a time when Taylor was dominating the amateur boxing scene, the respect she had earned meant she was held in high esteem and her publicised disapproval at women’s boxing yet to be fully accepted as an Olympic sport proved pivotal in her more than justified quest for credibility.
Having had their ambitions to compete at the Beijing games in 2008 fall on deaf ears, a contingent of disappointed female boxers felt enough was enough and something had to be done. Watching their male counterparts compete at the highest level in that of the Olympics every four years had taken its toll on female boxers, boxers who felt something had to give. They trained just as hard as the men. Winning medals is what top athletes like these women aspire to do. Competing at the highest level is what they felt they deserved– and rightfully so.
And so, spearheaded by none other than Ireland’s Katie Taylor, they began a battle for change and acceptance. To succeed, Taylor had somewhat of a masterplan to pave the way for her and her fellow female boxers to compete at the Olympics. Firstly, Taylor had to work on convincing the powers that be on the domestic front. Her first task was to persuade the Irish boxing authorities to legalise female bouts.
Upon securing validation for female sparring, the orthodox fighter next set her sights on the International Olympic Committee(IOC), with whom she strove to convince an onlooking jury to take the sport seriously and look beyond the current situation at the time and essentially persuade them into seeing the bigger picture. The greater outlook wherein female boxers could often only dream about.
To enhance her chances of securing a result with the IOC, Taylor and her comrades took to showcase fights– with the aim of showing the authorising parties the talent and potential she and her fellow female fighters had to offer.
The Irishwoman took part in showcase bouts in front of IOC officials in Russia and the US as she envisioned getting her beloved sport accepted into the Olympic Games. Demonstrating what she had in her locker and what she and the sport could bring to the table. Expressing her passionate belief that amateur female boxers had a right to fight on the biggest stage.
Having lit up the ring in both Chicago and St. Petersburg, Taylor succeeded in her mission and female boxing was finally accepted as an Olympic sport.
Having seen the results of her lengthy efforts, Taylor was overcome with relief. Righteous relief.
By going on the PR offensive, Taylor and Co had allowed the suit-wearing decision makers to observe the high standards of female boxing and eventually, the tables had turned. After years of cold shoulders and bittersweet disappointment, female boxers finally felt as though they had a voice and a platform to show what they were capable of.
With the hardest task done, Taylor and the amateur female boxing circle couldn’t rest on their laurels. Qualifying for the Games was the next task at hand. The World Championships soon after the acceptance acted as the qualifiers for the Games. Unsurprisingly, Taylor duly obliged as she boxed her way to the biggest stage in rather commendable passion. After the heartache of watching the most recent Beijing Games from home, justice had finally been served and the athletes, upon qualification, could begin their tailored preparations for the history-making London Games of 2012. An element that makes the feat even more admirable is Taylor’s youthful age at the time. At the slender age of 25, Taylor bore the weight of female boxing on her back and decided she wasn’t letting them down until they reached London.
Complemented at the time by the Amateur International Boxing Association(IABA) president Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu for her efforts in getting the sport over the line, Taylor would become Ireland’s leading prospect to take home a gold medal. After having her efforts see the Irish boxer become the face of the IABA’s campaign to gain the sports acceptance into the Olympic Games, the nation and many others further afield watched the Games in glee, with a common concession that a medal would be the icing on the cake for Taylor and her heroic efforts. With the lengths she had gone to in order to fight on the biggest stage of them all, the Bray woman flourished. Boxing her way to the final of the lightweight competition, Taylor overcame Russia’s Sofya Ochigava in the final to take gold. It proved a watershed moment– no less than she deserved. Almost exactly 20 years on from Michael Carruth’s gold medal at the ‘92 Games in Barcelona, Taylor brought joy to a nation and in reflection, it proved to be just another string to her bow in her pathway to further success– a pathway that would see her become our nation’s greatest sportsperson of all time and the champion we know her as today.
Speaking to Ryan Tubridy on RTE's Late Late Show recently, Taylor made reference to the legacy she has left on the sport having aided in getting it recognised and accepted as an Olympic competition being one of her sweetest achievements and one that she holds in very high regard amongst her many honourable feats in both boxing and in life.
Gaining admission to the Olympic Games for female boxers proved a pinnacle moment for not only Katie Taylor, but also for the future of the sport. For the highly competitive, enthralling competition we know it as today. Without the efforts of the current professional bouter, the excitement of the nation would be halved. There would be far less anticipation for the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The excitement and elation we as a nation are enjoying at present as the likes of Kellie Harrinton, Aoife O’ Rourke and Michaela Walsh put the finishing touches to their respective preparations for next month's Games. Without Taylor, these women, their teams, the media and the fans would be lacking something huge.
Katie Taylor has done so much, and it still appears as though the athlete has even more yet to achieve. An athlete that continues to act as a role model for many aspiring young Irish Olympians, both female and male. One who has brought so much joy to a nation, even in its darkest hours. An athlete we are proud to call Irish.