Irish Olympic medals are something like London buses — you wait for ages for one to come along and then three arrive together.
Yesterday, Katie Taylor guaranteed herself at least silver with a comfortable 17-9 semi-final victory over Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva in the ExCel Centre to set up an Olympic final with Russia’s Sofya Ochigava — whom she beat in the World Championship decider earlier this year.
Meanwhile, at Greenwich Park, Cian O’Connor, a late call-up to the team, secured a bronze medal following a thrilling afternoon of show jumping.
Then, just after 9pm last night, Belfast’s Paddy Barnes defeated India’s Devendro Singh Laishram (23-18) in the light-flyweight quarter-final, which means he is certain to leave London with bronze at least.
And for Olympic history buffs out there, the dual medal haul occurred 20 years to the day since boxers Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough claimed gold and silver respectively in Barcelona.
Now the Bray lightweight is hoping to follow in Carruth’s illustrious footsteps.
“This is what I’ve dreamed of my whole life. I think I’m in heaven,” Taylor admitted.
“I’m glad the final is Thursday and there is no delay. I need to get myself ready, have a good night’s sleep, and focus.”
But medals aren’t the only target for Taylor, who feels her displays will inspire more girls to take up the sport.
“Hopefully there are a lot of young girls sitting at home watching this, and they will realise this is what they can work towards.
“This is amazing for women’s boxing.”
What was equally amazing about the day was the support for Taylor. The 10,000 capacity crowd, which included British prime minister David Cameron, was predominantly Irish and they sang and shouted their way through the eight-minute, four-round bout. And Taylor was grateful for their backing.
“The support out here is unbelievable, I feel like I’m boxing at home in Dublin. It’s incredible, 10,000 Irish people screaming for me, this is what dreams are made of. I try to just kind of stay focused walking out to the ring. Hopefully I can make everyone proud.”
Her father and coach Pete struggled to grasp the enormity of the occasion.
“It was mad. Where would you get it? There is meant to be a recession in Ireland and people are coming over and spending their hard- earned cash to support Katie.
“What can you say? It is unbelievable. It brings tears to your eyes. We thought it would only be a few mates coming over, especially with the state the country is in.”
The decibel level at scenic Greenwich Park may have been a little lower but there were plenty of Tricolours on show on a sunlit afternoon as O’Connor and Blue Loyd took bronze following a thrilling jump-off with Gerco Schroder of the Netherlands.
The day was another step on the journey O’Connor has taken since he was stripped of the gold medal he won in Athens in 2004 after his horse Waterford Crystal tested positive for banned substances.
Four weeks ago, O’Connor wasn’t even in the Olympics but received a place following the exclusion of Denis Lynch after his horse was found to be hypersensitive.
Yesterday, he began the day as first reserve and ended it battling with Schroder for silver. “Hopefully it will have some good spin-offs for Irish sports at home,” O’Connor said of his achievements.
“Hopefully it is good for everyone at home and gives them a bit of a boost.”
Taylor’s opponent in today’s gold medal bout has accused referees of giving the Irishwoman 10 points before she even enters the ring.
Sofya Ochigava, right, who shipped some big punches from Brazilian Adriana Araujo in her semi-final yesterday, said the judges always favoured the world champion.
“When you are boxing with Taylor you are minus 10 points before the fight.”
Asked why she thought this, she said: “Because she is the only one in Ireland who can get gold at the Olympic Games and I think Irish people want her to win. Everywhere you fight, the crowd is the same for Taylor.”
Katie Taylor could put the perfect finishing touch to a spectacular career by winning an Olympic gold medal this evening but, if her father Pete has his way, today’s final will be her last fight.
“We haven’t spoken about it but I hope this is her last fight,” he said yesterday.
“Like, she’s done everything. She’s been boxing a long time now. She’s sacrificed her life for boxing at the moment.
“Obviously it’s not my decision, it’s Katie’s decision. Whatever decision she makes, I will back her. We’ll sit down as a family and speak about it. Maybe she’ll go back playing a little football. It’s a little bit safer.”
Irish in action
* Katie Taylor takes on Sofya Ochigava of Russia for gold at 4.45pm.
Paddy Barnes fights Shiming Zou of China at 1.30pm.
* John Joe Nevin faces Lázaro Álvarez Estrada of Cuba at 2pm.
* Michael Conlan tackles Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana of Cuba at 8.45pm. All three Irish male boxers are looking to secure at least silver.
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