BRAY, Ireland — For the Irish, Katie Taylor is more than a great athlete sprung from the native soil; people speak of her as if she has sprung from themselves, for she seems everyone’s sister, their daughter, their friend. She is the epitome of the strong-willed Irish lass. She has known what she wants out of life: a gold medal in boxing. And she has gone for it.
Perhaps not everyone here lives the way Katie does. She is, after all, a born-again Christian, a teetotaler and a boxer. But that does not seem to have kept her, at 26, from becoming a national sweetheart. The praise glides off people’s lips: genuine, hard-working, humble, never any shenanigans.
So around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, all of Ireland seemed to shut down. People hurried off to their homes or to pubs or to restaurants, anywhere there was a TV. They were not just wishing and hoping and praying, either. They were expecting a victory. “In Katie We Trust,” the banners read. The gold medal just had to go Taylor’s way, didn’t it?
By 5:20, Ireland had its answer. Katie Taylor, the girl from Bray, four times a world champion in the lightweight division, five times the European champion, was also now an Olympic champion, beating Russia’s Sofya Ochigava in a nerve-racking 10-8 decision.
“It’s touch-and-go now,” fretted Bernie Shannon as the fourth and final round drew to a close. “Ah, the pain of it. Did she win? I don’t know.”
Shannon lives in County Clare, a four-hour drive from Bray, in County Wicklow. But like hundreds of people from Donegal and Limerick and Newcastle, she came to watch the fight here in Taylor’s hometown.
“It just feels the proper place to be,” said her husband, Mike.
The Shannons were standing with hundreds of others in the courtyard of a restaurant that looks out on the Irish Sea. There were similar gatherings up and down the promenade. The commuter trains from Dublin, 12 miles to the north, kept bringing throngs into the town.
Taylor rarely loses, but Ochigava had beaten her once. To the Irish, the Russian had cast herself as the heavy by claiming that Taylor’s opponents always begin 10 points in the hole.
“You know when you go boxing with Katie Taylor, you’re not boxing with her, you’re boxing with all the judges around the table, and it’s difficult boxing against the system,” Ochigava said.
The Irish announcers predicted a game of cat-and-mouse, with two crafty fighters stalking each other. Ochigava was ahead, 4-3, after two rounds, but in Round 3, Taylor struck at Ochigava with the careful aim of a pointillist painter to take the lead, 7-5.
Would Taylor be able to keep the lead for the final two minutes? Across Ireland, people chanted, “Katie, Katie, Katie.”
At the final bell, Taylor walked slowly to her corner and hugged her father, Peter Taylor, who is also her coach. The final outcome was uncertain, and when the referee raised Katie’s hand, the crowds in Bray responded with roars. Some wept.
“She has done Ireland proud,” a woman from Dublin named Mary Malloy said tearfully. “She is a legend now, and she’ll be one forever.”
Full story from the NYT HERE.