We started off with high hopes of at least 4/5 maybe even 6/7 medals from the Boxing tournament in Rio, just a couple of short weeks ago and yet now we are down to TWO, both of whom are World no.1 – Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor.
As we’ve reported here already Conlan had a 3:0 pretty convincing win against the Armenian at the weekend though many would say it fell somewhat short of his usual high standards – indeed he himself said that too.
Today it is the turn of Katie Taylor, the reigning women’s 60 kg Olympic champion to try and take her first steps to retaining that title when she gloves off against her tough ‘friend and foe’ from Finland, Mira Potkonen. The ‘ flying Finn’ is a doughty warrior albeit she has never beaten Taylor in their six meetings todate in championship or exhibition bouts. Taylor too enters these Games with two losses earlier this Spring when she lost to Azerbaijan’s Yana Alekseeva and French champion Estelle Mostelle.
Taylor though by virtue of the points gained over the two yearly rolling period that the AIBA use remains as no.1 though it’s true to say that rather than any deterioration on the Bray woman’s part, her opponents have ‘caught up’ with her. Hardly surprising that when one remembers that Katie has been World no.1 for more than 10 years now, a record unlikely to ever be beaten such is the high standards of the women’s sport these days.
There are other factors too which have greatly distracted the Bray bomber – her Dad and Coach Pete is no longer part of the Irish coaching make-up and is clearly missed though it must be said that the team has some excellent coaches in HPU Interim Head Coach Zuar Antia, his assistance John Conlan and also Eddie Bolger. That said Pete did something ‘extra’ – together they talked and walked the stadiums and watched videos together of each of her potential opponents.
Additionally of course the situation is further complicated due to Billy Walsh now being Head Coach of Team USA and having a boxer qualified in Katie’s division – one Mikaela Mayer
Katie herself disagrees and recently said of her Dad not being around:
“It’s dramatic from an Irish point of view, but for me it’s just the same.
“I’ll be getting in the ring with the same focus, whether I’ll be getting into the ring against Billy Walsh’s boxer or anyone else. I’ll be focused and hopefully prepared for anyone who steps into the ring,” she went on.
Taylor has boxed Finland’s Potknonen on a number of occasions, recording a last-16 win over her at the 2014 World Championships, while the Finn also travelled to Ireland for a bout against the Bray woman in her hometown three years ago.
Zaur Antia, for long a close family friend of Katie and her family in Bray had this to say recently when asked if ‘age’ (she is 30) might be a factor in recent losses.
“Her age is no problem and her lifestyle and attitude is excellent, but women’s boxing is at a very high level now,” said Antia.
“Especially at Olympic weights where you have Olympic champions and youth world champions. Nearly everyone Katie meets now, she’s beaten them two or three times before but this is not easy.
“It’s dangerous fighting someone you’ve beaten two or three times before. Katie’s still very strong… they are getting close, but not close enough to beat her,” added Antia.
Katie does not expect any ‘easy’ fights in these Games and that includes today’s opponent Potkonen.
“The difference between winning and losing can be small margins at times, especially in international boxing,
“There are no easy fights – especially when you get to that stage of the competition in the semis and the quarters, every fight is so tough. It is disappointing to have lost this year but you just have to pick yourself back up and look at the positives,” she concluded.
I believe that with coaches like Antia (one of the world’s finest and now being sought by at least 8 countries after Rio), Conlan and Bolger, Taylor will rise to the occasion but it could be closer than one would normally predict a Potkoenen-Taylor “slog” for the Finn will certainly want to ‘ go to war’ from the off.
Can Taylor win Gold again this year? The odds have eased in bookies at home and abroad but if anyone can, Katie can.
That said she won’t be happy with even a bronze or silver so the Rio Games may well prove to be her last competitive competition at least in the AIBA ranks.
She could turn Pro or may well just decide that ten years at the top is enough.
Only time will tell. Keep on following us here.