The life of Katie: Four years on from London, Ireland's golden girl faces her greatest challenge

Katie Taylor begins her Olympic campaign later with questions over the air of invincibility she’s held for so long.

Taylor in Dun Laoghaire, where she sat down with The42 before heading to Rio.
Taylor in Dun Laoghaire, where she sat down with The42 before heading to Rio.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AS KATIE TAYLOR leaves Dun Laoghaire’s Royal Marine Hotel, she holds the door for three young girls, no older than primary school age, to come in ahead of her. They file into the lobby area one-by-one, oblivious to who they are thanking. Then, it dawns on them.

‘You know that lady who was at the door…,’ one of them whispers. ‘I think that was Katie Taylor.’

Before it even fully registers, their excitable mother has ushered the girls back outside to the front steps to have a picture taken. Taylor, needless to say, obliges. She also takes the time to ask, and encourage, them about their own sporting interests.

The three girls, two sisters and a friend, come away from it amazed. Their parents, too. ‘She is such a role model for young girls,’ one of them enthuses, as they head back into the hotel to digest what has just happened.

Taylor wishes them luck and heads in the opposite direction, her media obligations fulfilled for the day. Perhaps the most defining sportswoman of her generation, she walks out onto Dun Laoghaire’s main street alongside her agent. There’s no fuss.

Anyone who has met Taylor will appreciate her humility. She leads a quiet, ordinary life and tries to separate herself from the outside world. Everything Taylor does outside the ring is low key.

“I don’t really feel comfortable and the likes of this stuff is the hardest part of my job,” she tells The42, as we sit down for a chat before Rio. “I’d love to just get into the ring and box.”

Katie Taylor Taylor is ready to open her Olympic campaign at 3.30pm Irish time. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Even still, we feel as if we know Taylor. We all watched, and lived, every moment four years ago. We think we know what makes her tick, and what goes on behind the scenes.

Yet the reality is that we don’t. Her privacy has always been well maintained, largely by her father Pete, and her reserved personality means she rarely gives much away.

The absence of her mentor and coach in her corner since late last year remains the elephant in the room. Pete originally stepped away because he needed a break from ‘the stress’ of training and watching his daughter at the top level for more than a decade.

That was in November, and the breakdown of the relationship which forged her success still remains a mystery.

Taylor briefly let her guard down at a Sky Sports sponsor’s event in March when she hinted that he would not be returning to her corner anytime in the near future. From then on, the media were asked to refrain from bringing the issue up.

But it has changed everything. Her aura of invincibility has faded and she begins her Olympic defence this afternoon facing the biggest challenge of her career.

Two defeats inside the space of six weeks earlier this year, having previously gone five years unbeaten, have caused people to speculate that her enduring supremacy of women’s boxing is beginning to wane now that she’s hit 30.

“I probably feel less pressure now,” she continues. “People aren’t expecting me to walk through the competition in Rio. I think the pressure might be less this time which is all good really.”

It hasn’t been a good season. Relinquishing the World and European crowns she had made her own and sweating over qualification for Rio was not part of the plan.

Katie Taylor Taylor attended the opening ceremony but the build-up has been very different to London. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

In addition to Taylor’s poor form, other forces are beginning to emerge in the 60kg division. For the first time, her position at the top is being challenged.

Yana Alekseevna and then Estelle Mossely – albeit controversially — managed to find a chink in her armour and every other fighter will have been studying the tape of those fights. Today, Finland’s Mira Potkone has the first chance to dethrone the champion.

On the flip side, Taylor will have learned a lot too. A defeat can be often more instructive than victory and it’s well-known she isn’t the biggest fan of rewatching her fights in fear of being too self-critical.

In these circumstances, it’s what was needed. This is new territory for Taylor. She has always set the benchmark for other to aspire to reach and now the gap between her and the challengers is closing.

“I still absolutely love it, I still have such a hunger for it,” she insists.” Once you lose that desire and passion for it then I think that’s the time to hang up the gloves.

“I feel very lucky to be waking up to do something that I love doing and even though some days I get up and I don’t want to train, I still love what I do and I’m very grateful for that as well.

“I’m still be training twice a day, six times a week. Sunday is my rest day. Nothing has changed. In some way this year it might be better being away from all the madness as well.

“In Rio there’s obviously not going to be as big as Irish crowd over there and sometimes that’s nice as well, to get away from some of the pressure.”

Taylor has kept a low profile since arriving in the Athlete’s Village before the Games. She made an appearance at the opening ceremony but since then hasn’t been seen out and about.

Katie Taylor dejected after losing Two defeats this year hasn't been the best preparation for Rio. Source: ©INPHO

Her mother, Bridget, was by her side on the journey from Dublin and in Pete’s absence will play an integral role during this campaign. She is the rock of the family, according to Taylor who has always been incredibly close to her mother.

“I am very proud of what I’ve achieved but I know I wouldn’t be where I am without the people I have around me and I’m the one who gets the pats on the back and all the glory but nobody gets to the top on their own,” Taylor continues.

“They’ve been an absolute rock for me down the years, my Mum especially. She’s probably in the background but she’s the one who keeps the family together and she’s the rock behind it all. I’m very, very lucky.”

Family has always been important to Taylor, and home has always been Bray. Once again, a big screen will be erected on the seafront today with thousands expected to watch the town’s most famous export carry the hopes of a nation again.

It will rekindle memories of four years ago when Taylor — visibly overwhelmed — struggled to keep her emotions in check as 20,000 people welcomed her home with a gold medal around her neck.

While she will always look back on that day with fond memories, it’s hard not to remember how uncomfortable she felt. Facing those situations doesn’t get any easier with time.

“I never really imagined coming back to a homecoming of 20,000 people and it was unbelievable,” she recalls.

“Incredible scenes and great memories but at the same time I was thinking ‘I have to get away from here’ because I definitely didn’t feel comfortable in the spotlight.

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“I definitely had to make a decision after London to just go back to normality and get back to my own routine and that’s exactly what I did. My family keep me so grounded and I just needed to get away from the cameras and everything after London.

Ireland's Olympic gold medalist Katie Taylor Taylor will be hoping for more scenes like this, even if she is uncomfortable in public. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“In Bray you get a few stares but people largely leave you be and that’s the way I like to live.”

She has had to learn to deal with the public’s glare. Her humble background and unassuming disposition makes her a likeable, and relatable, figure. There is very little to dislike about Katie Taylor.

Despite everything — the success, fame and medals — she remains true to her roots and has done so without losing any of the core values that mean so much to her and her family.

“I want to be an inspiration to people, to young girls,” Taylor adds. “I love to be a role model and set a good example, especially for young kids growing up. I step onto the canvas to win medals but I also am fully aware Ireland is watching.

“I want to show there’s a different way to live your live and you don’t have to go down the drinking route or whatever.

“When you’re at that age in secondary school and your friends are starting to go down that route, I’d love to set a good example for those kids and demonstrated what can be achieved with hard work.”

Taylor has made the sacrifices demanded by greatness from a young age. Her achievements over the last decade have already rubber-stamped her position as one of Ireland’s greatest sports people.

But for now, she has to answer the toughest questions of her career. What was previously a foregone conclusion is now far from certain and she is facing into her sternest test.

Katie Taylor Despite everything, Taylor remains the boxer to beat. Source: ©INPHO

“I want to win this gold medal just as much as I wanted to win the first one. There will still be an awful lot of pressure and the pressure I put on myself to win another gold medal.

“During the competition I will be very, very focused but I can enjoy it once I get the gold medal around my neck. That’s when you can put your hair down and enjoy the moment and relax but up until then I’ll be focused and that’s the way it is.

“I would love to leave a good legacy behind me, that’s everyone’s dream — to leave an impression and be a trailblazer for their sport. It would be great to be one of the greats to be in mentioned in the same sentence as some of the greatest athletes in Ireland and the world.

“To be one of the greatest female boxers of all time, I’d love my name to be in the history books forever.”

And if she can reign supreme in Rio, it will be her greatest achievement yet.

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‘Class is permanent’ – No doubts in Irish camp as Katie opens her Olympic defence

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