Katie Taylor collapsed to her knees after winning the ninth gold medal in Ireland’s Olympic history and the ecstatic crowd seemed to raise the lightweight boxer back up with its roars. Blinking back tears, Taylor wrapped a green, white and orange flag around her shoulders and later took a slow walk through the overjoyed masses.
The scene was stirring, even breathtaking. What could anybody possibly do to top this Irish celebration?
Claressa Shields had a few ideas.
With one more dynamic victory to close the first Olympic women’s boxing tournament, the US middleweight showed that while Taylor is the current pound-for-pound champion of the sport, Shields is the future.
The ebullient 17-year-old easily dispatched the world’s best fighters in her weight class, capped by a 19-12 victory over Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova on Thursday.
Shields danced, brawled and even stuck out her tongue at her opponent, who is nearly twice her age and about half her speed.
Taylor was named the Olympics’ best women’s boxer. British flyweight Nicola Adams also thrilled the home crowd with a gold-medal victory that was even more impressive, upsetting world champion Ren Cancan of China, but Shields had enough talent and flair to draw a bit of attention away from the two local heroes — a feat as impressive as her win.
“This was something I wanted for a long time, even when boxing wasn’t going all right, even when my life wasn’t going all right,” said Shields, who found sanctuary in a boxing gym during a rough childhood. “All I wanted was a gold medal and I kept working towards it, even when people were saying I couldn’t do it. I’m too young. I couldn’t do it. There were girls who were going to beat me because of better experience, more experience. I proved them all wrong.”
Adams, Taylor and Shields triumphed in rapid succession on the final day of the London Games’ landmark tournament, claiming the first Olympic titles in a growing sport that was banned in Britain until 1996.
The five-day event with 36 fighters was one of London’s biggest hits, adored by fans and praised for creating gender equality in the Olympic program. At a minimum, International Amateur Boxing Association president Wu Ching-kuo wants to double the number of women boxers in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“It was fantastic,” International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said. “I’m a very happy man. There has been some criticism of whether women should be boxing, and of their level and technique. Today, we have been vindicated.”
Most of the raucous crowd came to see Taylor, who shouldered enormous expectations through three bouts amid a patriotic fervor of Irish colors and songs from those devoted fans who consider her a sports icon. She even carried the Ireland team’s flag in the opening ceremony.
Taylor’s final victory, a 10-8 win over Russia’s Sofya Ochigava, was perhaps the least memorable part of the afternoon. She barely beat Ochigava in a defensive fight, relying on a 4-1 points swing in the third round after trailing midway through the bout.
Unlike most of Taylor’s fights, the result was still in doubt when the judges’ scores were announced. Taylor took a victory lap of the Excel Centre after the medal ceremony, trailing another Irish flag behind her.
“It’s been the dream of my life,” said Taylor, a four-time world champion. “The support was incredible. I was a bit shaky during the fight. She is a great boxer.”