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Saturday 23 August 2014

'It's tough on a father watching their daughter in there, getting punched. It's not easy on me'

Olympic winning coach Pete Taylor reveals he feels torment whenever Katie puts herself in the firing line

Vincent Hogan

Published 19/12/2012 | 05:00

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It is the stark subtext to the beautiful story of Katie Taylor's march on Olympia, a father still waking every morning to gentle worries for his daughter.

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He said in London that he hoped the Olympic final would be her last fight, joking at the gold medal press conference that he would "probably live to a hundred" if Katie left the ring for good. So there was something just a little threadbare about Pete Taylor's smile down by Dublin's Grand Canal Dock yesterday.

Boxing has been his life, but he looks at clips from Katie's Olympic fights and senses himself age visibly from one to the next. Now she is ready to climb between the ropes again, and the separation of parent from coach isn't just some simple, unthinking process.

It will be his job to find the right opponent for February 24 in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, then his job to ensure that Katie is ready for someone hungry for the scalp of an Olympic champion.

In her recently published book 'My Olympic Dream', Katie reveals how the first time she boxed without Pete in her corner, she lost at the 2006 European Union Championships in Sardinia. "Mentally, I just wasn't right," she wrote. "I was nervous and tense all day, simply because my dad was not there."

Her father's technical and emotional support has long been indispensable to Katie Taylor. It comes at a price, though.

Yesterday, Pete offered a remarkably candid portrait of his mindset as the journey to Rio 2016 was launched with an announcement that Katie will top a Brian Peters-promoted all-amateur bill in February.

"I think probably every day I hope she's going to change her mind," he revealed. "You know whatever she wants to do I'll always support her, but I'd love to wake up in the morning and her to say 'I've had enough of this ... '

"Because it's tough for a girl to go through what she goes through all the time. I mean every sparring session is a tough sparring session, because she's sparring men. You're afraid of injuries, afraid of her nose being broken or anything. It's tough for me every time she's in sparring.

"So I'd love her to wake up in the morning and say she's not going on with this anymore. But she's not going to do that."

He had previously mentioned the possibility of a return to football as an alternative to the ring, but perhaps he'd been articulating his own hopes, not Katie's.

"I did actually think she might have gone back to play football," he confirmed. "But she watched a few games and she had no interest in them. So that was that over with."

And the rumoured Arsenal interest?

"Arsenal have always been interested in Katie," he revealed. "But she's a home-bird as well, so that would have been difficult for her anyway. I think she's lost her love for playing football, to tell you the truth, but she still has a passion for boxing. So I'm just going to support her.

"But I can't put into words what it is like watching Katie boxing. If you look back at the Olympics, I think every day I got 10 years older till the final. But every sparring session, it's the same. She was sparring there last week against a young lad and they were going hammer and tongs at each other and I was thinking 'I don't need this...'

"It's tough on a father watching their daughter in there, getting punched. It's not easy on me. There's no nice way of putting it. I love the sport but it's difficult to watch.

"All these girls are getting stronger, Katie is getting stronger too. I'm just lucky enough that she's coming out winning all the time, because I wouldn't like to be on the other end. The Natasha Jonas fight (Olympic quarter-final) was a tough fight, and Natasha took some big shots as well.

"I wouldn't have wanted to be her father looking at that to tell you the truth."

Katie herself retains that impregnability of an athlete in the golden glow of youth and admitted that she "can't wait" to end what will have been a six-month break from competition.

Her hope is to fight "someone who's going to stand and box" in February and, with Queen Underwood almost certainly unavailable, the suggestion of Brazilian Olympic bronze medalist Adriana Araujo visibly appealed to her. Pete, however, reckons it is more likely they will go up a weight division to 64 kilos for a world-ranked opponent.

For Katie, boxing will – at least – restore something recognisable as normality to her life.

She admitted yesterday: "I just can't believe the effect it (her Olympic win) had on people really, just hearing the stories of where people were when they were watching the fight, what they were doing... just the emotions that everyone felt when I won.

Crazy

"It was such an emotional time, but I never really realised how much of an impact it had until I came home. It's been a bit surreal, a bit crazy. But women's boxing is going to get harder now over the next few years and it's my job to keep one step ahead of everyone else."

She has watched none of her Olympic fights, simply because it is not something that interests her.

And while life seems a blizzard of functions – she is just back from Armenia where she received the ' IABA Women's Boxer of the Year' award and was recognised last weekend at the BBC awards in London – training has almost offered an escape into the past.

Pete describes their days back in the little boat-house gym on Bray seafront as "the one place where nothing's changed".

While Katie took four weeks off after London, they've been back working ever since, albeit not quite at pre-Olympic intensity.

"We go to the gym, we lock the door, the members in the club are just the same," Pete said. "It's the normality in her life that we've kept. And the hunger is still there. She kind of gets annoyed if she misses a session because of a press conference, awards function or whatever."

Brian Peters' avowed ambition is, should the February event be successful, to bring Taylor to similar shows in all four provinces, and – beyond that – perhaps even see her box as an amateur on big-fight bills in Las Vegas or an iconic venue like Madison Square Garden.

For Pete Taylor, the world around his daughter is suddenly spiralling at a huge pace.

"It's been amazing," he said. "I can't believe the reception we get wherever we go. Just coming back from the BBC awards, trying to get through the airport was amazing.

"It's mad that a girl has opened our eyes to boxing. It was just a working-class sport, but everybody's interested in amateur boxing now. And it's taken a female to do that, which has been crazy.

"But it's hard for Katie to walk down the street now. And it's more difficult for a girl to be in that position than it is for a man.

"Everybody knew she was four-times world champion and five-times European, but I don't think they really realised what level she was boxing at or what level the other girls were at until they saw it at the Olympics.

"All people read was Katie coming back with a gold medal from different tournaments, so she was seen as a shoo-in going to London.

"But the Olympics woke everybody up to the standard of female boxing. I think the fight against Natasha Jonas was voted the best fight at the Olympics, male or female."

Equality for the warrior women then, albeit at the price of a father's quiet worry.

Irish Independent

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