Thursday 8 December 2016

Tears, disbelief and anger as Katie loses her Olympic crown

Sean McGoldrick and Alan O'Keeffe

Published 16/08/2016 | 02:30

An emotional Katie Taylor is interviewed after her defeat to Mira Potkonen of Finland in their lightweight quarter-final bout in Rio Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
An emotional Katie Taylor is interviewed after her defeat to Mira Potkonen of Finland in their lightweight quarter-final bout in Rio Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

For Ireland, the unthinkable happened yesterday.

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The golden girl of Irish sport Katie Taylor surrendered her Olympic crown and will return home empty handed from Rio.

People on the seafront in Bray, Co Wicklow, react as they watch the result on a big screen Photo: Damien Eagers
People on the seafront in Bray, Co Wicklow, react as they watch the result on a big screen Photo: Damien Eagers

This was the knock-out punch an already beleaguered Irish boxing squad wanted so desperately to avoid.

In her native Bray, a massive gasp of disbelief reverberated around the crowd as the result of the fight became clear.

Wicklow County Council had installed a giant video screen on the seafront for what was to be a mini-Rio carnival of celebration.

A victory was believed locally to be a foregone conclusion.

Taylor (in red) and Potkonen in action during the bout Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Taylor (in red) and Potkonen in action during the bout Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

A huge cheer erupted when the Irish boxer appeared on the video screen at the open air bandstand.

In brilliant sunshine, parents bought ice cream for their children as they prepared for a fiesta in honour of the fighter.

But, the joy turned to horror at the end of the fight - when it was announced her opponent Mira Potkonen, from Finland, had triumphed.

Post-fight interviews were being broadcast but most of the people had already drifted away from the venue in disappointment.

Assistant coach Eddie Bolger Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Assistant coach Eddie Bolger Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

People stood with tears in their eyes when Katie's face filled the screen for an interview after the fight.

Understandably, there was an angry response from the Irish coaches in the immediate aftermath of the controversial split-decision loss.

Assistant coach Eddie Bolger threatened to halt the post-fight press conference when he took exception to a direct question to Katie as to whether she thought she won the fight.

Amidst all the anger, recriminations and sheer shock at the result, it was Katie, despite being close to tears, who kept her head. Accompanied by her mother Bridget, she sought solace in her deep faith.

"The plans that I have in my heart are sometimes different than God's plans. I just have to trust him during this time," she whispered.

But there was a note of defiance in her reaction as well, as she declared: "I'm not finished yet, that's for sure."

Locals in Bray reacted with heartbreak for their beloved fighter and expressed their solidarity.

"I'm shocked and gutted," said Bray mother-of-three Trish Harte (45). "Katie is a great Olympian and she has worked so much of her life for this. It's a very sad day. She didn't deserve defeat," she said.

Bray resident Clare Byrne (51) was crest-fallen at the open air event and spoke of the huge support Taylor has always enjoyed. "She had a tough year. I thought the fight was very close and I'm so disappointed. I will remain 100pc a big fan of Katie's.

"This is a blow for the whole of Bray. Normally, everybody would have stayed around the seafront after the fight celebrating but big numbers of people are heading home straight away because of the disappointment," she said.

A neighbour of the boxer, Joseph Doolan (52) could not hide his deep disappointment.

"She will always be the darling of the people here in Bray. She needs to take some time to think about it all. She gave everything over the last four years and this is such a shock," he said.

Close to tears, a Dublin woman named Ann (66) travelled from Inchicore in Dublin to watch the fight on the big screen in Katie's hometown.

"I just want to cry, I really feel for Katie. Her father wasn't in her corner and I think she could have missed him. All my family usually come to Bray to support Katie during her big fights. She's such a lovely person. There's something really nice about her," she said.

"We're all so proud of Katie. It was terrible to see her so upset," she said.

Back in November 2013, the Taylor family actually played host to Katie's Olympic conqueror Mira Potkonen.

At that time, she was in Ireland to fight the then Olympic champion, a fight in which Katie was victorious, raising expectations for yesterday's bout.

"I really should be beating those girls, for sure," acknowledged Taylor yesterday.

"It's very hard to talk about the fight when it's just finished. When you're inside boxing, it probably looks a lot different from the outside, I'm not sure. But the judging is very, very subjective. Congratulations to her."

Katie's fight was scheduled first on yesterday's programme which started at 11am local time. The Irish fans, including some of Taylor's team mates from the boxing squad and other athletes no longer involved in competitions, tried to generate an atmosphere.

Even though the fight was balanced on a knife edge throughout, their vocal support never waned.

But when the referee raised the hand of Potkonen, the cheers turned to groans.

Another Irish sporting dream had perished in Pavillon 6 of the Riocentro which has turned into a hall of horrors for Irish boxing in the last week and half.

Michael Conlan is now the last man standing and Irish hopes rest with him.

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