Monday 11 December 2017

Boxing: Taylor still faster, stronger . . . now she aims higher

Katie Taylor exchanges punches with Sofya Ochigava during yesterday’s Lightweight 60kg world final. Photo: David Maher
Katie Taylor exchanges punches with Sofya Ochigava during yesterday’s Lightweight 60kg world final. Photo: David Maher

Bernard O'Neill

KATIE TAYLOR has been installed as a firm favourite to win Olympic gold following her magnificent win at the seventh AIBA World Women's Championships in China yesterday.

The Bray lightweight claimed her fourth successive World lightweight title with an 11-7 decision over Russian southpaw Sofya Ochigava in the 60kg final at the aptly named Olympic Stadium in Qinhuangdao.

And in a double celebration for Taylor, who turns 26 on June 2, she also scooped the Best Boxer award at the 70-nation tournament.

Taylor was tied at 4-4 with Ochigava following a tense opening two rounds, but edged 8-6 ahead in the third before taking the final round 3-1 to enhance her reputation as the best pound-for-pound female boxer on the planet.

Yesterday's pairing was a repeat of the 2011 European final, which Taylor won 10-5 en route to her fifth European gold in a row -- a year after she was controversially beaten 8-1 by Ochigava in the Czech Republic.

Taylor will now be top-seeded at the Olympics, giving her a bye into the quarter-finals -- meaning that she will need just one win to be assured of a bronze medal.

If she makes it through to the Olympic final, the Wicklow girl -- who has won four World, five European and four EU titles and who has never been beaten in a major international final -- may well find herself going toe-to-toe with Ochigava once more.

"I'm delighted to be coming home as a World champion once again," said Taylor.

"I have a week off and then I'll be back training for the Olympics. It's only seven weeks away and, please God, all the training will go well and I'll go to London in the best shape I've ever been. Hopefully I can come home with the gold medal I've always been dreaming about."

Speaking about yesterday's win, she added: "It was a close fight. It could have gone either way. It was such a tense fight in there, such a game of nerves and patience really."

Taylor admitted she was unsure about how the final round was going. "I wasn't sure what way the scoring was going to go and I was a bit tense near the end. Thankfully, my hand was raised. Sofya is a fantastic boxer. She's always been at the very, very top."

Taylor's coach, her father Pete -- an ex-Irish champion who was working Ireland's corner along with ex-Georgian champion and USSR boxer, Zuar Antia -- reckoned that patience was the key to victory. "It was a game of patience. She's a great boxer that Russian girl, brilliant. We knew it was going to be a tactical fight and a game of patience. We knew whoever held their nerve the best was going to win," he said.

"We told her (Katie) to keep her patience and try to meet her as she came in. It wasn't a fight for the armchair viewer. It was a fight for the connoisseur. You kind of have to know your boxing to appreciate that fight. It was a great performance. Number one seed going into the Olympics, which takes you one fight away from a medal. I can't believe it."

Meanwhile, Ireland's three strong squad of Taylor, Ceire Smith and Sinéad Kavanagh, who Irish team manager Anna Moore said did their country proud, finished in fifth spot in the medals table in China. The Irish squad also finished in 11th spot in the rankings at the tournament despite having a smaller panel than the 10 countries above them.

Taylor and the Irish team are due to arrive home at Dublin Airport at 5.35pm today.

Meanwhile, the president of the IABA, Dr Ching-Kuo Wu, has said there is a "very limited opportunity" for Joe Ward to qualify for the Olympic Games via the Tripartite Commission invitation.

Speaking to RTÉ Sport's Paul O'Flynn in Qinhuangdao, Dr Wu said that Ireland had six qualified boxers, an above average representation.

"So whether Tripartite will accept the country that already has so many boxers to the Olympic games? Tripartite will consider (Joe Ward). He's not qualified, so it goes through the Tripartite and (there is) very little opportunity," he said.

Ward missed out on qualification at the European qualifying tournament in Turkey in April. The objective of Tripartite Commission Invitation is to allow countries with only a few qualifiers to participate more fully in the games.

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