Wednesday 13 December 2017

The sporting moments that made 2012: Final agony ends in relief and tears

Tommy Conlon

katie holds her nerve

If Katie Taylor's gold medal was the high point that transcended just about everything else this year, the Olympic final that brought her the ultimate prize was itself an anti-climax that very nearly became an almighty crash.

Through no fault of her own, we didn't see the best of Taylor that day in August. Her resourceful Russian opponent, Sofya Ochigava, dictated the terms of engagement. She turned a fight into a chess match. It became an exercise in cat-and-mouse caution. It made for the most nerve-wracking eight minutes in Irish sport this year.

Taylor trailed by a point at the end of the second round. She had scored just one point in that round. Ochigava's strategy was working. Taylor was in a bind. She needed points but she couldn't leave herself open. The prevailing fear was that this could go desperately wrong. That she might even crack.

One could only imagine that the pressure inside her head was swelling like a tumour. Everything was on the line. There was no tomorrow. There was just the here and now; just four minutes left to fulfil a lifelong dream.

But she didn't crack. She knew, she understood, what her opponent was trying to do. She had prepared for it. Peter Taylor, her father and coach, knew and understood too. At the moment of maximum stress, in the most mind-bending circumstances of her career, she held onto her nerve. She retained her clarity. She stuck to their plan.

Taylor turned it round in the third. And still she wasn't out of the woods. In the fourth, Ochigava caught her with swinging right hooks that stumbled her and put her on the floor. It was a terrifying sight. She had just enough of a cushion to survive. She won the title by two points, 10-8.

Everything she had ever learned about boxing; every bout, every sparring session, every hour she had ever sweated in a gym, was needed in the crucible that was that Olympic final. She had never taken a shortcut in her life. The gold medal was just reward for a life lived with complete integrity to her sport and to herself.

The country, naturally, went into raptures. Taylor herself was joy personified in those magical minutes after her hand was raised in triumph. But one sensed that there was profound relief mixed into her emotions too. Relief that after all the years carrying this crushing burden, it had finally been lifted off her shoulders and removed from her soul.

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