KATIE TAYLOR SAYS she is looking forward to the challenge of competing in the “big competitions,” as she prepares for the upcoming European Championships.
The Irish boxer travels to Bucharest this month, having already prevailed on five previous occasions at the competition.
But following her 2012 Olympics triumph, Taylor took a well-deserved break away from boxing, as she sought to recover from the intensity of preparing for the London Games, and she has largely competed in exhibition matches since then.
“The first six months after I came back from the Olympics, it was great, but after that, I was just itching to get back into the major competitions,” she said. “I definitely missed being involved in those big fights, those big competitions but I think it was important for me to have that downtime as well, just mentally really more than physically. With the pressure I had to deal with coming up to the the Olympics, it was important to get that rest. I’m really looking forward to getting back into it now.”
Yet despite being away from competitive action for a considerable period, Taylor is confident she can come back better than ever.
“I definitely still have a lot to improve on and a few things to sharpen up on over the next few weeks. I feel really good. I feel stronger than ever and I feel I’m improving all the time as well.”
With three fights in three days, the 27-year-old faces a rather arduous task, yet Taylor insists she is physically prepared for the challenge.
“I’ve been in the gym all the time,” she says. “My sparring’s been going really well. It is important to get those fights. You can do as much sparring as you can in the world but it’s not the same as actually getting in there and fighting. It’s important to sharpen up and practice a few things during those fights as well.”
Moreover, at least one of her opponents will be a familiar face from the London Games, and thus, intent on gaining revenge – Sofya Ochigava, the Russian who Taylor defeated in the final, has been confirmed to participate, while Great Britain’s Natasha Jonas may also feature.
Yet while Taylor will be regarded as the boxer to beat, forebodingly for prospective opponents, she claims to be even stronger than she was back in 2012.
“[I've been working on] a few technical things I should’ve done and I’ve been working on different angles as well. Different angles is the main thing. Since the scoring system has changed, the fights have become a lot more physical as well, so I’ve become a lot stronger.
“I’ve been involved in amateur boxing for 17 years now and the scoring system has changed so much and I’ve never had to change my style. There’s always a few tweaks and adjustments to suit the scores, but it doesn’t make a difference. It does make the fights a bit more exciting and a bit more physical the way the scoring system is now.”
(To mark its 30th anniversary of Sports Sponsorship in Ireland Toyota brought together its current team of Sporting Ambassadors, including Katie Taylor)
Inevitably, even now, Taylor is constantly being asked about Rio 2016, yet she refuses to properly contemplate the event, preferring instead to focus on the more immediate future.
“I’m not thinking too much about Rio at the moment but this is a big stepping stone towards that I suppose. I want to be very dominant over the next couple of years. I don’t want to give anyone a glimmer of hope coming into Rio. I want to continue to win competitions.”
Taylor’s professionalism and relentless desire is therefore laudable, particularly given that she has already achieved virtually everything that can be done for an amateur boxer. Ultimately though, it’s a deep passion for the sport that keeps her going.
“I just absolutely love amateur boxing. I love my sport. I just love winning competitions. I want to make history in my sport. I want to go down as one of the greatest amateur boxers, I suppose. I just want to continue to win titles really. It’s all about the Olympics for me as well. I’d love to go there and defend my Olympic title. It would be unbelievable to be able to do that and to bring home medals for my country.”
And this passion forced her to disregard all alternative paths, including a promising football career in which she was picked for the Ireland international women’s team at one point.
“I haven’t kicked a football in years to be honest,” she says. “It was too hard to really stay at that level when you are not playing so much football. I couldn’t really compete near the end.”
Consequently, her heart is now firmly fixed on boxing, and specifically, this month’s Europeans.
“There’s pressure in every single fight that I go into. I think it’s a huge privilege going in as a defending champion as well. It would mean so much to me to come back with that gold medal again.”