On Sunday, just three days after Katie Taylor won Ireland’s first gold medal in over a decade, the Olympic champion boxer sat down exclusively with the Irish Mail to discuss her journey to the top of the Olympic podium.
“It has surpassed all my dreams,” Taylor said of becoming Olympic champion. “Everything now is worthwhile – the social life, the boyfriends. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice now. I loved doing it and I trained twice a day six days a week and it just didn’t leave time for anything else.”
A sacrifice, indeed. Dedicating herself to boxing, Katie Taylor has had no boyfriends, no post-Leaving Cert holiday, no J1 visits and not a drop of alcohol - things that many other Irish her age are well accustomed to.
Her sacrifices, however, of course paid off in the end.
“That is exactly what I wanted and I don’t feel like I was missing out on anything. And I am very happy with my life, sitting here talking to you as Olympic champion, it’s incredible. And no boyfriends or J1 summers could give me that.”
Just days outside of winning her final match and clinching the gold medal for Ireland in the Women's Lightweight (60kg) boxing, Taylor still finds the entire experience surreal.
“At the time it happened, I was just all over the place because I had pictured winning the gold so many times in my head that when it actually happened it didn’t seem real. I’m a bit more emotional about it now I have had time to process it, because this is a dream come true. It was an incredible moment for me and my family.’
However, now that Katie’s wildest dream has become a reality, she is planning on taking some very well deserved R&R: “I’m going to go away for a holiday somewhere hot for a few weeks with some friends and I’m looking forward to just hanging out on a beach and just not thinking about boxing,” said Taylor.
While she’s looking forward to taking a breather from the sport that has dominated her life for some years now, she still has a big imposing question to answer - what to do next.
“I’m not going to make any decisions now for a few weeks,” she insists. “I have to decide about going pro or staying amateur – but that can wait a while.”
Taylor explained that for the time being, Ireland’s latest gold medal is locked away in her hotel room suite, only taken out at night when she sleeps with it - partly to make sure she isn’t just dreaming.
“I slept with the medal under my pillow,” said Taylor. “‘Actually I woke in the night and I thought it was a dream and and put it on to make sure. It still hasn’t sunk in. And every time I see pictures from home it just makes it all that more special. I have been emotional all day. I have had a few cries, all right, but they are tears of joy.”
Taylor has undoubtedly moved the sport of boxing into the forefront in Ireland, and hopes she has inspired other Irish women to get involved with it. She hopes the Irish Sports Council will help maintain the popularity she had a hand in it gaining.
“‘I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the funding I received over the last few years’, she says. ‘And as a result of that funding I have been able to train as a full-time athlete.”
“Hopefully the young girls who will have watched the Olympics and have an interest in boxing will be inspired to take up the sport and become Olympic champions themselves – but they need to get the funding.”
Taylor went on, “Because women’s boxing is here to stay at the Olympics and when the hype has died down and it is back to looking at the next championships, we need to make sure that the money is there to look after the next generation.”
Both Katie and her equally ecstatic mother Bridget Taylor are still overwhelmed and deeply touched by the characteristic Irish support.
“I knew the support was going to be good. I just didn’t realise it was going to be like this. To have the entire island of Ireland shouting for you – and Kate Middleton – is just overwhelming.”
“The fans,” said Katie’s mother Bridget, “when we arrived on Monday for her first bout and I got off the train at Custom House – there was just this sea of green. We’re just ecstatic, we keep crying every time we think of it, we’re just an ordinary family, there’s just such a sense of elation as a family, we’re so proud of her.”