Thursday 29 September 2016

Sinead Kissane: Katie will hear new voice in her corner for Rio tilt at immortality

Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30

'Katie’s past has been grounded in routine and her family' Photo: Sportsfile
'Katie’s past has been grounded in routine and her family' Photo: Sportsfile

When Katie Taylor ducked under the ropes and into the ring for her final at the 2012 Olympic Games, there was only one voice she could tune into amid the thunderous noise and support in the ExCel Arena. That voice was her dad's.

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She's always been able to pick out his voice over everyone else's. Four rounds later, she would look over at him and ask: "Is it me?" before the result was announced that she had won Olympic gold. Pete, her coach and her dad, was where he always was: in her corner and watching her back.

But her dad may not be in his usual position when Katie defends her Olympic title in just over five months' time. At the National Championships last November, Pete wasn't part of his daughter's team and instead it was her brother Lee alongside the national head coach Zaur Antia.

"I'm taking a break from the corner," Pete said at the time. "We are trying new things at the moment so we'll see how it goes this time."

'Trying new things' didn't add up when you look at the numbers which have made Katie and Pete the most successful athlete-coach partnership in the history of Irish sport. Katie has won 18 major titles since 2005 with her dad as her coach; one Olympic, five World and 12 European gold medals.

Partnership

The temporary feel of 'trying new things' has gone past its sell-by date. Katie is now training fully under Antia in the High Performance Unit. Pete is not due to be part of the Irish coaching team for the European Olympic Qualifiers in Turkey next month with Antia, John Conlon (Michael's father) and Eddie Bolger set to make up that coaching ticket.

We don't know if Pete will be back for the World Championships in May or if he will be accredited for the Rio Olympics when Katie qualifies.

For a partnership which has rarely known anything but success, it's difficult to see this as nothing but a huge change in the career of one of our most popular and successful sports stars.

Katie's past has been grounded in routine and her family. On the day of the Olympic final four years ago, the Taylors stuck to what they always do. After Katie and her dad went for a walk to talk tactics like they always do on the morning of a fight, her mother arrived to do her hair and to pray.

"It's the same ritual all the time and it has worked for me for years," Katie said in her book 'My Olympic Dream'. "It's a case of 'if it's not broke don't fix it'. We never change."

But now things have changed. When asked about the extent of her father's involvement in her preparations for Rio, Katie gave little away in an interview in the Sunday Independent last weekend. "Well, he's my father, so he's still my dad and that's the most important role. He's entitled to take a break. I owe so much to my dad and what he has done for me."

When she was asked whose decision it was, Katie said: "I think you will have to speak to him about that."

Katie and Pete have always come as a package - their daughter-father relationship inextricably linked with their jobs as boxer and coach. Before the 2012 Olympics, Pete said: "Separating my roles (as father and coach) is the most difficult thing for me now."

But looking at this solely from the boxer-coach partnership, just how is the fact that her dad is no longer her coach going to affect her build-up to Rio?

Because going on what she has said about her father in the past, it couldn't but not have an effect. "Because we are so close, he (her dad) also understands me better than any other coach; he knows the way my body reacts and behaves, and knows my mood and disposition," Katie states in 'My Olympic Dream'.

"For me there is something very relaxing about being able to go to bed the night before a fight, knowing that I have complete, 100 per cent trust in the person that is going to be telling me what to do in my corner."

It was Pete telling Katie how to approach fights, almost predicting how the fights would go, giving her advice during fights, telling her what the referee would say, what her opponents would do which also came from countless hours studying videos: "He shows complete and utter dedication to making sure no stone is left unturned. That is the difference I see between having him in my corner and someone else."

Maybe she felt she needed a new winning formula as she bids for back-to-back Olympic titles. Recently Katie said training under Antia in the High Performance "is definitely getting the best out of me". "He (Antia) knows everything that I'm on about. He knows me inside out. You wouldn't want to be making too big of a change in such a big year".

Antia was the other coach in Katie's corner on that memorable afternoon at London 2012. He knew from when he first met Katie in 2003 that she would be a legend.

Yesterday I spoke to Antia about Katie's progress. With Billy Walsh in America, Antia is now in charge of over 30 boxers in the High Performance Unit. He wants Katie to become a better "physical fighter and emotional fighter" and improve skills like her timing between attack and counter-attack.

So is she a better boxer than she was four years ago? "Katie is better than before," Antia says. "You have to be better. Perfection has no limits".

The first time Taylor boxed without her dad in her corner she lost at the 2006 European Championships. And she subsequently admitted that mentally she just wasn't right because her father wasn't there.

With Antia now in her corner, Katie knows what's best for her right now.

She's a fighter. And nobody puts Katie in a corner.

Irish Independent

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