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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Katie Taylor: Boxer, Star, Hero

The viewing figures won't have been impressive, due to the time difference, but the column inches will.  Katie Taylor is again the champion of the world, Ireland's golden girl, and a beacon of hope for us all in a time of economic gloom.

Ten weeks out from London 2012, she has assured her passage to sport's centrepiece not only as the undisputed No. 1 in her weight division, but also as a sports star with increasing global recognition, and more importantly, undoubted respect.  The next three months promise much for Taylor, but her greatest achievement cannot be quantified in medals or trinkets or trophies or even in the adulation of a nation.

Pic: Irish Sports Art

It's less than three years since it was announced that Taylor, and other women boxers, would have the chance to fight for gold in London and the reaction was mixed, at best.  This article from that time shows that there was opposition, within the sport, and ahead of it's return to the Games (women boxed non-competitively in St. Louis in 1904), I would expect many international news outlets to run pieces asking 'is it right?' and 'should women box?' etc.

But not in Ireland.

Here, Katie Taylor has single-handedly made women's boxing an accepted, if not yet a mainstream sport.  Young girls throughout Ireland lace up in clubs each week, inspired by a bone fide hero, and our collective print and broadcast media are enamoured with the woman that inspired them.  Her qualification for the Games was a lead news story on at least one national radio station this week, and not just in the sports bulletins - it is the same today.  When London arrives, we will watch in great numbers and we will cheer Katie on.  We will hope and pray for gold, and undoubtedly welcome her back from London with a gathering previously only seen for the likes of McGuigan, Roche and our soccer stars.

For all Irish people, Katie has answered the question, 'should women box', with a resounding yes.  She's won that argument as convincingly as most of her fights within the ring.  When her skills are witnessed by the wider world in London, I'd wager that she'll convince many more that the IOC were correct in their decision three years ago, and come 2016 the hubbub will be no more.  It's by no means an achievement to rival that of Emmeline Pankhurst, but for women's sport, London will see another barrier broken, with our own golden girl leading the way.