By Brendan Boylan,
Pugilism is defined in the dictionary as ‘The art or practice of fighting with the fists; Boxing.’ The term was first encountered reading a Con Houlihan column. This corner would have to conclude, though, having read the dictionary definition, that it’s slightly wide of the mark.
The former double Olympian and now top class analyst Mick Dowling opined during London 2012 that he doesn’t like his sport being referred to as fighting. It’s a view very easy to concur with. Now, of course there’s an inherent danger involved in Boxing, but that applies to all contact sports.
Where boxing differs though is that there is hardly a better policed sport, in terms of refereeing. Some would say that pugilism – particularly for women – is somewhat undignified. But, apart from the obvious equality issues and on top of everything else she has achieved, watching Katie Taylor blaze a trail to glory and bring home the gold served to dispel such notions.
If anything, there was far less brawling and mauling in the ladies bouts than with the male protagonists. Indeed, the speed of Taylor’s movement and punching were one of the unforgettable highlights of these Olympics. A few months back, a column was keyboarded on this machine offering the view that the exceptional, inspirational Bray lady represented Ireland’s best – maybe only – chance of adorning a podium during the first two weeks of August.
Surely never before has an Irish athlete had such pressure of expectation thrust upon them in the lead up to a major event, unlike those across the water. There’s no such thing as a given in top level sport, but the thought of Katie coming home minus medal – and gold at that – was – in the public eye at least – inconceivable. Dealing with that alone, not to mention the ever growing circus of – admittedly well meant – attention cannot have been easy.
Yet, that’s just another remarkable aspect of the Taylor tale. The brilliant – and quiet – manner in which the lady herself and her dad and coach Pete have managed what has been a life in the spotlight for the past 11 years. Doing so in the past recent past must have been their greatest challenge to date.
Perhaps the greatest part of that challenge came about due to a glorious and deserved honour bestowed upon the sporting heroine before the games even began. Katie was the obvious – frankly only – choice to carry the tricolour at the opening ceremony. It meant, though, that she had to be in London ten days before her first bout. If there was one drawback to her high profile, it was that she had a bye in the first round and thus had a week of what must have seemed like interminable waiting.
Such is the Taylor psyche, however, that not an eyelid appeared to be batted when the campaign did get under way. Certainly not in the opening outing against Natasha Jonas. If there was a moment’s doubt about the most sporting quest since Barcelona’s pursuit of Cesc Fabregas, it came on the doorstep of destiny. Firstly out of the knowledge that Katie’s opponent, Sofya Ochigava of Russia, had beaten her before. And secondly because it was in the showpiece contest that the Irish star fell behind for the first time in the entire tournament.
Despite the sour and scandalous overtures emanating from the Ochigava camp before and after the bout – not to mention the reprehensible, sour attitude during the medal ceremony – what won out in the finish was Taylor’s undoubted and indisputable class.
While she might have – partly at least – seemed like our only realistic medal hope going over, the crowning of Queen Katie only served to top an unforgettable fortnight. Right, so it only matched the medal tally of 1956, but in terms of hope for going forward, London ’12 must surely go down as our greatest Olympics.
Boxers Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlon and John Joe Nevin also collected medals. Barnes should in fact have attainted more than the very commendable – and historic – bronze he did. How he wasn’t declared winner of what turned out to be his final contest is impossible to fathom.
Of course, the Royal County made a significant contribution to Ireland’s great Olympics too. While he might have been born in Kildare, Cian O’Connor has been in Meath long enough for us to claim at least a small part of him!
Undoubtedly, some will have misgivings about what’s gone on in the past. But, for one thing I feel the unfortunate circumstances weren’t of O’Connor’s doing personally. And for another, surely everyone’s entitled to a second chance. When it was afforded to him, he most certainly grasped it and was desperately unlucky not to grab even greater glory. What it also proved is his undoubted ability to perform on the biggest stage and there’s no reason why he couldn’t again be successful in Rio.
Maybe, however, the even greater local Olympic story was that of Natalya Coyle. That might seem odd when O’Connor picked up a medal, but, when it’s considered that Coyle only took up Modern Pentathlon a few years ago, her tenth place finish was outstanding. This wordsmith would openly admit to knowing little or nothing her sport, but, such was the excellence of the initial effort, even at this stage, Natalya must rank as a serious medal prospect for 2016.
Overall, from an Irish perspective, the games turned out better than anyone could’ve hoped for. Methinks, though, it will forever by remembered as the Katie Taylor Oympics!