LONDON (Reuters) - When a young Katie Taylor used to watch her father, Peter, shadow box in the family kitchen, women’s boxing was not officially recognized in Britain, the country where 15 years later she would complete a long road to Olympic gold.
It has been a journey longer and harder than most. She had had to watch Olympic Games from her home in Bray, just outside Dublin, knowing that the sport she was devoted to was the only one missing from the women’s program at the Summer Games.
She had to blaze a trail, both at home and abroad, to prove women had a place in the Olympic ring, ignore the raised eyebrows and just clock up world title after world title. She had four of them by the time she reached London.
Yet Taylor, who at 26 may very well walk away from the sport she loves while at her peak, shares the one key trait of all great Olympians, a burning desire to be the best.
“I want to go all the way to the very top,” an 11-year-old Taylor told national Irish broadcaster RTE in a radio interview plucked from the archives this week, bragging that she had hit a boy in the nose and made him fall over.
As Ireland finds release from its economic hardships in her success - as witnessed by the huge support at the boxing arena - footage of a teenage Taylor has been popping up everywhere, reminiscent of toddler Tiger Woods wowing with a golf club or tiny Lewis Hamilton zipping around a race track.
She never wanted Barbie dolls growing up, Taylor once told RTE, just football boots. But ever since asking for a pair of boxing gloves for Christmas after watching her father and brothers box, she has been completely dedicated to the sport.
Her mother Bridget, who was a boxing judge before Katie was born, said in a recent interview that her daughter did not have a 21st birthday party, nor does she drink alcohol. She has been on a few dates but “she just can’t give it the time”.
“SACRIFICED HER LIFE”
While it will utterly change as soon she steps off the plane in Dublin airport with a gold medal around her neck, Taylor has enjoyed a relatively low profile in Ireland that has suited her quiet, diligent and fuss-free style.
When she won her first world championship at the age of 20 in India, there were no front page headlines. She won her second in China in 2008 while representing Ireland at soccer just a few months earlier.
By the time her third and fourth arrived, women’s boxing had been given the green light for London and word of Taylor’s skill, speed and ferocity began to spread wider than the boxing halls of Ireland.
Constant through it all has been another devotion, to Christianity. Deeply religious, Taylor prays with her mother in her hotel room before every fight, listens to the same worship songs on her iPod and reads the same bible verses.
She credits everything to God, has said religion is the most important thing in her life and that she would not be world champion without it.
Such routine helped Taylor stay calm as Irish fans decked in green, white and gold, desperate for a first untainted Olympic gold in 20 years, were anything but serene. Ireland’s last gold medals were won in 1996 by swimmer Michelle Smith, who was later suspended in a doping controversy.
Thanks to Taylor’s performances and the grandness of the occasion for women’s sport, her celebrity has and will spread far and wide with intrigued U.S. sportswriters, in particular, leaving no media seat unfilled at the ExCel centre on Thursday.
Such intrigue in the land where big boxing dollars are made will likely present Taylor with tempting professional offers from promoters who know just how big a draw she would be in the Irish American heartlands of New York or Boston.
Yet the County Wicklow girl, already making a tidy living through sponsorship from the likes of Adidas and Lucozade, may follow the path of another amateur boxing great, the late Teofilo Stevenson, who famously said what is a $1 million when compared to the love of eight million Cubans.
At least that is what her father and coach Peter hopes.
“She has sacrificed her life for boxing and obviously we are going to speak about it, it’s not my decision it’s Katie’s decision and whatever decision she makes I will back her,” Peter Taylor told reporters on Wednesday.
“But we will sit down as a family and speak about it and maybe she will go back and play a bit of football, a little bit safer.”
Additional reporting by Patrick Johnston; editing by Michael Holden