Ireland has won 26 medals in Olympic history, and 12 of those have been in boxing. (Two were for painting. I kid you not. Stats are here.) There is the kind of national commitment to the sport that Australia has to swimming or Canada to ice hockey. Now try to imagine that men competed in Olympic swimming, but women could not. This year is the first time that the Irish have been able to tune in to the Olympics and see women compete in what might almost be thought of as their national sport.
The last time Ireland won gold was in 1996, when Michelle Smith took an extraordinary 3 gold medals and a bronze in swimming events, despite coming from a country that did not even have a 50m pool. Today, when Katie Taylor won the 60kg lightweight division final, she did more than win her country its first gold for sixteen years. She has been a big part of the hard-fought campaign to have women’s boxing included as an Olympic sport, refusing to confine herself to the already acceptable outlets for her talents.
From the seaside town of Bray, on the Southern outskirts of Dublin, Katie is also on her country’s national soccer team, but has repeatedly spoken of boxing as her first love. In 2009 she was voted best amateur women’s boxer in the world. Her most complete biog is on the Women Boxing Archive Network (WBAN).
The RTE (Irish equivalent of the ABC) report on the Olympic final says that, “Many work-places around the country closed early for the bout, which began shortly before 5pm”. It seems to me that the language used by Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny in praising her gives a sense of the way achievements like Katie’s can have a much wider effect on the respect given to women for what they do:
“Katie Taylor is not only an Olympic champion, she is a force of nature whose pioneering spirit and boxing brilliance have seen her realise her personal dream of winning Olympic gold. In doing so she has set an exceptional standard and there is no doubt that she is a role model that many will follow. She has won the hearts and minds of the Irish people who admire her greatly and love her to bits.” (Quote from the Irish Times)
Congratulations to this awesome woman, and may she go on to keep challenging the limits of what people expect from women in sport.