A nation holds its breath again as Katie strides towards gold

8 Aug

Published by TheScore.ie, 8 August 2012

IT HAPPENED SHORTLY after two o’clock. Ireland ground to a halt and again watched as one. In offices and in pubs, in shopping centres and on street corners.

The slow road into an afternoon filled with history could hardly have been further removed from the action on the ExCeL Arena canvas. A nation stood still, bursting with pride, but it was speed and agility that won the day in London.

More than an hour before the scheduled start time of Katie Taylor’s 60kg semi-final against Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan, they began to congregate on the main street of her hometown in Bray. Outside the ExCeL, stream upon stream of green headed towards the doors until there was precious little chance of picking out any other colour.

No sooner than she had won an Olympic bronze medal on Monday, Taylor declared that she hadn’t come this far to settle for third place. For her, it has always been gold or bust and as the nerves built in those final moments, we once again shared in her dream.

To coin a phrase used by Jimmy Magee, this wasn’t the last stop on the DART line. There’s still one more to go.

Whoever was left in charge of the ringwalk music was obviously in tune with the national mood. Dressed in red, Taylor walked the walk of a champion as Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World” blared over the arena PA. For those 15 minutes, for all of Ireland, the 26-year-old was just that. Nothing else mattered.

If Monday’s bout against the great British hope Natasha Jonas was laced with nerves, today’s was different. The prize at stake was greater again yet Taylor’s record against Chorieva, seven years her junior, somehow dampened any fears.

The opening round was cagey. Taylor scored with three clean shots to Chorieva’s one and still the Tajik fighter let her inexperience show, indulging in a small bit of her trademark showboating even as she fell behind on the judges’ scorecards.

Showboating isn’t a move  in Taylor’s playbook. She carries her undisputed talent with a humility that could teach many a lesson and looks supremely focused when in action, but if there was any indication that Chorieva’s antics had irked the four-time world champion, it came as the bell sounded for the end of the third round. She wound down the final few seconds with a little bit of foot shufflin’ and then danced her way back to dad Peter and trainer Zaur Antia in the corner to learn of a 13-6 lead.

From there Chorieva’s fate was sealed and not even her best efforts could stop the Taylor train in the final round. The outcome was clear long before the arena announcer delivered the judges’ 17-9 verdict but it was still met with a collective exhalation, punches of the air and from ringside, a standing ovation for Ireland’s pride and joy.

Step two of three complete, the focus immediately turned to tomorrow’s gold medal decider. Russia’s Sofya Ochigava, a familiar foe, has been working towards this day since May when Taylor bested her in the final of the World Championships.

One thing is for sure, the ear-splitting support will not be in doubt. Proud as punch on Monday, Taylor declared it a “privilege” to fight for the people of Ireland. The feeling was most definitely mutual.

Team GB’s gold-medal winning heptathlete Jessica Ennis will go down in history as the face of London 2012 but on these shores, there will only ever be one golden girl. And she’s ours.

A nation holds its breath again.

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