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Golden girl just keeps writing her own pages of history

In the late 1970s, when Nancy Lopez was dominating women's professional golf, a Golf Digest article protested "They've got the wrong person playing Wonder Woman on television."

The temptation is to be equally glib about Katie Taylor's vice-grip on her sport, to seek refuge in some kind of cartoon projection of a story that has long since drifted beyond the realm of anything we can regard as understandable.

This evening, Katie will make a familiar walk through Dublin Airport, flashbulbs popping. There is probably another Late Late Show appearance looming too but, beyond that, Taylor will soon return to a largely private existence in which her schedule for six out of every seven days must stay obedient to a self-imposed tyranny.

That is Taylor's invisible world, the one that keeps separating her from the rest.

She has now won 24 straight World Championship fights and is unbeaten since losing a decision to a North Korean boxer in Russia nine years ago. Her career total since '01 registers as 154 victories in 161 contests, most of the defeats asterisked in the eyes of those who saw them.

Extraordinary

Arithmetic is the crutch we hold to articulate some kind of definition of Katie Taylor. This was her fifth world title. In Bucharest last May, she won her sixth European. Both are records, but then records apply to just about every last thread of her extraordinary life in boxing.

Trouble is, they also cultivate ambivalence. The more people see Katie stride through an Arrivals hall with gold around her neck, the greater the temptation to imagine some kind of easy repetition to what it is she does.

Yet go YouTube her quarter-final against Finland's Mira Potkoven in Jeju last week and the folly of that notion finds graphic expression. Potkoven goes after Taylor with utterly wild aggression and, for a minute or so, the sheer violence of the contest is breathtaking. Katie has been drawn into a trap, taking a couple of vicious hits as they just go toe to toe.

Yet, Potkoven's fury spent, Taylor's ring-craft quickly re-establishes her supremacy and she wins on all three scorecards.

Compare that contest to yesterday's final against Azerbaijan's Yana Alekseeva. This is a chess match by comparison, a fight contested to the wary, staccato rhythm of picador jabs.

Her father Pete, whose coaching in the company of Zaur Antia is so priceless to Katie, has instructed her to concentrate on scoring with single punches. Alekseeva is too dangerous a counter-puncher for Taylor to risk lingering inside. As Pete put it, "We knew she had to get out quick." The fight-plan is executed with extraordinary poise by his daughter.

For Billy Walsh, head coach of Irish boxing's High Performance programme, that is the beauty of Taylor the fighter. Her ability to box in whatever conditions present themselves. To play poacher or gamekeeper. To go to war or dance.

As Walsh puts it "People are always looking for that universal boxer, she is that universal boxer. There's very few of them in the world. Katie can fight from all distances; she can box, she can stand toe to toe, she has it all.

"So it's easy give her tactics. Pete and Zaur have done a fantastic job with the knowledge that they have. But they can give her tactics knowing that she will deliver them at any range at any level on any day."

As an example, he cites the 2012 Olympic final against Sofya Ochigava.

When the judges' scores decreed the Russian to have won a marginal second round, there was zero panic in the Irish corner. "Pete was just cool as a cucumber" remembers Billy.

"We had analysed Katie's previous fights and they showed the third round to be her best round. When he saw the scoring now, someone else might have panicked and said 'We've got to go for this!'

"But Pete just said 'Stick with the plan!' And, of course, Katie went straight back out and had her best round of the fight.

"You can't put a price on the trust she has in her father and in Zaur. If they told her to stand on her head in the ring, she'd do it!"

That said, it is impossible to measure the emotional toll on Pete Taylor of watching his daughter, essentially, being coursed by every serious female lightweight boxer on the planet.

After yesterday's victory, he offered a fleeting glimpse of that strain with his simple observation "My heart's in bits!"

It will have meant a great deal to Taylor that her victory in South Korea brought her equal with the record of Mary Kom, the extraordinary Indian boxer she has always regarded as a legend. Kom had a Bollywood film released about her boxing story this year, but managed just a bronze at the London Olympics where, of course, Taylor's fame found global purchase through gold.

With 17 major titles now in her locker, Katie is already guaranteed to retain her world No 1 lightweight ranking all the way to 2016, which will mean she will be considered the world's best for an unprecedented tenth consecutive year.

The normally reticent Antia paid tribute to her yesterday, saying simply: "Her will to win is just so big. She proved again that she is really a legend."

One of the keys to Taylor's achievements has always been the quality of spars available to her on the South Circular Road from some of Ireland's elite male boxers. To prepare for Jeju, most of her work was done with fellow Olympic medallists Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, as well as European Youth silver medallist Curt Walker.

For Walsh, who gets a constant close-up of Taylor's work ethic, there are no secrets behind this remarkable stockpiling of crowns.

"Katie is simply the greatest athlete that this country has ever produced and that we'll probably ever see" says Billy. "The opponents are getting more dangerous. They're coming, they're examining, they're trying, but Katie keeps raising the bar. She keeps raising it to a height that will never be equalled in any stream of Irish sport.

Consummate

"I always say that if we could get the boys to live a quarter of the life that Katie Taylor lives, we'd have a lot more gold medals.

She is just the consummate professional. She loves the craic, loves the banter, but when she's in focus for training, nothing else gets in her way.

"And she puts nothing past her lips that might prevent her from being world champion."

Walsh marvels particularly at her ability to cope with irrational expectation. All of which begs the question as to what our demands of Katie Taylor will amount to come Rio 2016.

Defending her Olympic crown was the fundamental motivation behind Katie's rejection of lucrative offers to turn professional after London, and there is no doubting that would be the perfect signature to put on one of the most phenomenal stories in modern sport.

Ominously for the opposition, Walsh believes she will be even better come the next five-ringed circus.

"And she's going to have to be, she knows that" says Billy. "What Katie's just done now won't be good enough next year because everyone is playing catch-up, everyone is working harder to get to Rio. But that's one of the major driving forces behind Katie, she always wants to get better.

"She's 28, but she's a young 28. There's plenty more left in her. We're just in the mid-Olympic cycle remember, but she's ticking all the right boxes. Her own standards are so high. I think Katie wants to be remembered as the best athlete we ever had.

"And I think she will be."

Irish Independent