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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Katie Taylor on coverage of women’s sport: What more do we have to do?

How useful are role models if we never get to see them?

Image: BIlly Stickland/INPHO

“WHAT MORE DO we have to do? What do we have to do to get the recognition?”

Of all the theories, hypotheses and opinion being bashed around this week in the wake of an ill-thought out, self-confessed ‘fluff’ piece which did the online rounds, Katie Taylor’s voice has to be the authoritative one on the subject of women’s sport – and our coverage of it.

Her four World Championship wins, six European Championship golds and a Olympic title aren’t quite enough it seems to ensure column inches and television broadcasts.

“I just won my sixth European title a few months ago and none of those fights were seen live on TV,” she tells TheScore.ie, admonishing the national broadcaster for failing to support one of the country’s most successful sports.

What would be good enough for her though?

“I would like to get the same coverage as the men,” she says, “at least,” she then adds. Taylor has never been one to look at minimum requirements.

As we sit down with her at the Bray Boxing Club, she is in the middle of what she describes as an “intense phase” of training.

With the World Championship around the corner in November, the 28-year-old is gearing up to peak again at exactly the right time.

“It’s really tough at the moment. A bit like pre-season training. Tough, intense runs and long rounds in the ring.”

She’s also lifting heavy weights to boost her power, while also working on speed, which is “always the most important thing”.

Training sessions are twice a day, six days a week. The day off? A massage, some chats with friends, and, usually sponsorship duties. (After this interview, she takes us on a short run as part of her Adidas deal to launch its new female wear. As the only Irish female face for the brand, she’s a busy lady).

She pretends, momentarily, that she is not superwoman and that there are days she doesn’t relish being in the gym.

“I don’t wake up with a smile on my face every morning and think, ‘Yay, training’. There are definitely days when you are not in the mood. You are tired and sore. But my dad used to always say to me when I was smaller that those were the days that would make the difference between winning and losing. So you keep going. You have to keep going.”

While she maintains her focus is always just on the next competition, the Olympic Games in Rio are floating ahead, a chance to defend the title she so famously earned in London 2012.

“I don’t think about it too much, honestly,” she says. “I try to go from contest to contest, fight to fight. I try and improve each time.”

But on Rio, she adds: “It’s a sign of a great athlete when they can defend titles over and over again.”

And she will look to family and her faith to get her there.

Bringing up her relationship with God, the athlete says she does not find questions about her religious life intrusive.

“The most important thing in my life is my faith and my relationship with god. That is more important than my boxing and any medal that I’ve won,” she explains.

“I do feel like I have achieved great things in my career but that would not have happened if I didn’t have God in my life. I go through fears and doubts just like anybody else but it’s because I have that strength and faith in god that I get through.”

Practically, that relationship manifests itself each day in prayer, readings of the Bible and talking to God, “finding him in everything I do, giving him the praise and honour for my boxing”.

Much of the praise for her boxing though is also reserved for her family, particularly her coach and father Peter Taylor.

Not only did he give solid advice to his daughter as a child, he stays up to watch hundreds of hours of fights, analysing mistakes that Taylor herself does not want to relive.

I don’t watch any of my fights back. It’s not good for my confidence to see my mistakes and I’m very critical myself.

Much of this work takes place in the Taylor’s home town of Bray in Wicklow.

And home is definitely where she wants to be.

running

Source: BIlly Stickland/INPHO

Asked later as we run down the promenade, she says she can’t imagine living anywhere else except Bray. Bray is home. Bray is family. Bray is where her mother takes care of her dietary and nutrition needs, ensuring she maintains her strength and power while also hitting that 60kg target on fight day.

Taylor stands at 63kg currently and takes between three and four weeks to shed that 3kg. It’s a gradual process because “you can’t be killing yourself to make the weight as an amateur boxer… You could be fighting up to five times a week”.

To get to the target she gives up the beloved chocolate, eats smaller meals and gets a bit “cranky”.

“It’s probably the hardest thing about boxing. I’m not the easiest person to be around. My family walk around on eggshells.”

Understandable when she describes “dying of thirst” at bedtime because of the lack of water, and the dry mouth and the grumbling tummy. And it doesn’t always work as it should. There have been occasions of panic when the sweat jacket and skipping rope are required.

“Sometimes after fights, I dread stepping on the scales as it means I have to do a training session as well. It’s not too tough, a light session just to get a sweat up.

“That’s part and parcel of boxing though,” she shrugs, impressively.

It’s not only her hunger moods that is difficult for her family, she admits.

“It’s not easy for them to watch me boxing in these competitions. I think they’re looking forward to when I stop.”

But stopping isn’t in Taylor’s plans.

“I’m happy to be doing something I love doing every day. I would like to turn pro at some stage in my career. I’d like to give it a go – it will be a good challenge for me.

Maybe after Rio – if I get offered a good contract. It will have to be a good contract for me to turn over but I think I’ll have to give it a go at some stage.

When the time does come for the competitions to stop, Taylor always sees boxing in her future.

“I haven’t really thought too much about it but I’d love to stay in boxing in some way. Whether it be in coaching or what. I’d love to have influence on the young girls coming up.

“I think that is the most satisfying part of the last couple of years… Seeing so many girls boxing. So many girls getting involved in the sport and really enjoying it. It has changed the perspective in this country of the sport.”

I tell her of 11-year-old twins I met recently who chose boxing as their favourite sport, over camogie and Ladies Football which they both also play. (Incidentally, there is no telling them there is anything unusual about young girls boxing).

It is like the rugby from this week, notes Taylor.

“For these young girls coming up, they have great role models now. They need to see that.

“Those girls would love to see the fights,” she says, bringing it back to the incredibly powerful role TV plays in the promotion of any sport.

“People do want to see them but we’re just not getting the support for whatever reason. Amateur boxing, in general, doesn’t get enough recognition for being our most successful sport. These guys should be household names as well but it is hard to get the support for RTÉ.”

In Paris this month, we saw those world-beaters in the Irish women’s rugby side, a team that did not exist in 1990. One that suffered tremendous defeats in the early years of its existence but persisted with little money and no support. The results came slowly but, season by season, they became a little more regular. After a Six Nations win in 2013, the motivation to perform on the big stage was palpable.

Where does Taylor’s competition motivation fit into a narrative when her honours list is as prolific as what is mentioned above.

It’s simple.

“I want to go down as one of the all time greats in women’s boxing,” she says. “That’s what’s pushing me.”

To the 11-year-olds across the country, she already is the greatest boxer of all time. Won’t it be nice when they get to see her?

Katie Taylor launches the new adidas Energy Boost footwear, BOOST technology is a pioneering cushioning innovation that combines energy return innovation with style led design. The new Energy Boost is available now from Life Style Sports and adidas.ie in four colourways: striking pink, frost mint green, white, and black.

Opinion: Women’s rugby deserves better than lazy and damaging stereotypes

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