5 Min Read
LONDON (Reuters) - Ireland's Katie Taylor won the lightweight gold at the London Games on Thursday, capping a scintillating career that delivered four world titles and saw her lead the charge for the inclusion of women's boxing at the Olympics.
Women's boxing has been a big success in its Olympic debut, overshadowing the men in the process, and in Taylor, they have not only the face of the sports but potentially one of the stories of the Games.
Taylor, 26, had to watch previous Olympic Games from home knowing that the sport she excelled so greatly at was the only one missing from the women's program at the Summer Games.
"It's a dream come true," Taylor told a news conference also attended by her father and coach Peter who said it was his daughter's destiny to be Olympic champion.
"I've envisaged this moment so many times. I've no intention to stop, I have 10 years in me. Pro or amateur, not sure yet. I will make a decision in the next few weeks."
Despite being overwhelming favorite, Taylor admitted the final was "so tough", after edging Russia's Sofya Ochigava 10-8 in front of an arena packed again with raucous Irish fans, desperate for a first untainted Irish Olympic gold in 20 years.
In a rematch of this year's world championship final, Taylor started cagier than in previous fights, catching Ochigava with two big right hooks but taking a left square on to leave the scores tied after one round.
The caution continued in the second as Taylor fell a point behind, the Russian catching her with another couple of smart lefts but Taylor owned the third round, catching the Russian enough times to open up a two-point lead.
The one-time international soccer player hung on in a last round that was tied and looked visibly nervous as she awaited the decision before going to her corner to hug her father and running around the ring with an Irish flag.
Exiting the arena close to tears, she hugged former world professional Irish champion Barry McGuigan who told a ringside reporter that it was 20 years to the day since Ireland won its last boxing gold, Michael Carruth's in Barcelona.
Ochigava departed far from happy with the outcome.
"As usual they tried their best to let the Irish win, the judges as usual corrected the scores in her favor just as they did during the world championships to let Katie win," Ochigava told reporters through a translator. "What can I say now."
Ireland, who also have three fighters left in the men's semi-finals, last won an Olympic gold when Michelle Smith swam to three victories in 1996, but those were tarnished by her suspension in a doping controversy two years later.
That long wait saw fans draped in the green, white and gold of the Irish flag fill the Excel centre with chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole", a chorus usually reserved for Irish soccer matches, as well as Irish sporting anthem "The Fields of Athenry".
Their cheers were followed by tears as the Irish flag was raised. Taylor, a deeply religious woman who prays and reads the bible before bouts, pointed to the heavens as it ended.
The joy in the arena was shared by the Irish back home.
"Katie Taylor is not only an Olympic champion, she is a force of nature whose pioneering spirit and boxing brilliance have seen her realize her personal dream of winning Olympic gold," Irish prime minister Enda Kenny said in a statement.
"She has won the hearts and minds of the Irish people who admire her greatly and love her to bits."
In Taylor's home town of Bray, just outside Dublin, an estimated 10,000 people watched the fight on two big screens on a soccer pitch, a stone's throw from the new Olympic champion's home and where she went to school.
As the commentator said "and the gold medal is on its way to Bray" just seconds before last bell went, the crowd went crazy. Flags were being waved and huge jets pumped confetti into the air when she was announced the winner.
Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan, whom Taylor beat in the semi-finals, took bronze along with Brazilian Adriana Araujo.
Additional reporting by Patrick Johnston, Lorraine Turner in Bray, Ireland; editing by Michael Holden