The reception was huge, and Katie Taylor was brilliant.
The virtuoso of women’s boxing, who is the signature athlete in this event at the 2012 Olympics, rolled into the medal round in her first bout as the lightweight competition looked like it became hers to lose.
The ExCel Arena throng was loaded with Irish fans who have adopted Taylor as their hero. She did not disappoint them. That is not to say that she did not have spirited opposition. Natasha Jonas of Liverpool, representing Great Britain, came with an effective southpaw style that was, unfortunately for her, not effective enough.
One has to give much credit to Jonas for bouncing back after a rough first round, in which she fell behind by a 5-2 score. She summoned up all she had and actually had an even score (5-5) with Taylor in the second stanza, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The final two rounds belonged squarely to Katie, as she started to build on her advantage in the third round and then hurt Jonas with a right hand in the fourth, which forced the referee to call for an eight count. Obviously at the end there was very little doubt.
One had to appreciate that as the prohibitive favorite, Taylor was going to be under an awful lot of pressure. Well, she delivered, and readily admits that she was inspired greatly by the crowd support.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable. I knew the support was going to be great, but I didn’t realise it was going to be so great. I just tried to stay calm and composed and I thank God for the victory,” she said.
As most people following the Olympics know, Taylor has enough popularity and respect in her home country that she was chosen to carry the Irish flag during the Olympic ceremony. If she wins gold, she is very likely to come out of this not only a national hero, but a rather hot commodity in the pro ranks.
This has already been a very good Olympics for Ireland. Not only is Taylor guaranteed a medal, so is John Joe Nevin, who defeated Oscar Valdez-Fierro of Mexico to advance to the men’s semifinal at bantamweight.
Now comes what may be Taylor’s big hurdle; on Wednesday, she has to tackle Mayzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan, who is one of the rare few who have beaten her. In fact, it happened at the AIBA World Championships this year.