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Golden Katie Excels

I wasn’t in the GPO in 1916, I wasn’t in Stuttgart in Euro 88 but for the rest of my years I will bore people telling them I was there in London 2012 to see Katie Taylor crowned Olympic champion. It was a truly magic experience to be in the Excel Arena to see Irish sporting history made.

I was one of probably about 8,000 Irish there that day. People wondered why there were so many Irish there, well it was because most of us took a punt about 15 months ago and applied for tickets for that specific event. In Athens in 2004 (see here), I’d bought tickets for the men’s lightweight double skulls where Ireland were favourites but failed. Robert Heffernan’s magnificent fourth place this weekend reminded me that I’d also bought tickets for the women’s 20km walk in 2004 when we thought Gillian O’Sullivan might medal and due to injury she never even made it to Athens.

Flags

This time around Katie Taylor was our medal hope. I can’t claim to have seen Taylor fight before so I haven’t been on the bandwagon that long but I was hoping to climb on it now with the destination hopefully the top step of the Olympic podium. The weight of expectation on the Bray fighter was ridiculous. Even having won the last four world championships and been the poster girl for women’s boxing in Olympics, the pressure still didn’t seem to faze her. The day before a raucous Irish crowd had cheered her on when she won her semi-final. The final was to be another step up.

The amount of Irish last Thursday meant the Excel was like a mini-Poznan except without the massive drunkenness or the poor result in the sporting event. It was the hottest ticket in town to see the first ever gold medal bouts in women’s boxing. The British were here to see if Nicola Adams could win gold for Britain. A Terrific Thursday for Team GB to go with the Super Saturday we’d seen when in London for the previous weekend (see here). We had Princess Anne as well as former England cricket captain Michael Atherton stroll right by us. The Irish threw their considerably support behind Adams who won the very first women’s gold medal and then came Katie.

2-2 after the first round, there were audible groans when the second round scores showed Taylor losing by a point to Russian Sofya Ochigava. Taylor was going to have to very much earn that gold medal. The third round saw Taylor step it up and we were hoping that the “Katie, Katie, Katie” chants along with the de rigour Olé Olé were spurring her on. Even though she led by two points going into the last round, when the final bell tolled I was very much unsure.

It was as tense an occasion I have ever felt in a sporting arena waiting for the final announcement. Pete Taylor ran a worried hand over his shaven head while Zaur Antia had to look away. Both fighters had their hand held by the referee and both had their other hand pointing to the sky as if this would influence the outcome at this stage. When they read out the final result and Taylor sank to her knees in triumph that is when the tears arrived. Ireland had won an Olympic Gold medal with Taylor becoming only the sixth person to win a gold medal for our country.

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Minutes later Pat Hickey (who else!) was on hand to present Taylor with her gold medal. We then had the once in a lifetime opportunity to sing our national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, and see the tricolour raised in honour of an Olympic gold medal win for Ireland. Don’t mind hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff, this was pure tears-running-down-the-front-of-the-face, for me anyway and most of the Irish in the arena.

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We didn’t want the celebrations to end and either did Taylor who broke away from protocol to grab a tricolour and go on a lap of honour around the arena as the decibel levels went higher and higher if that seemed even possible.

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We floated out of the arena after the final bout that saw 17-year-old Clarissa Shields win for the USA. A sea of green made it’s way out to the DLR, singing the Fields of Athenry as volunteers and press were taking photos of the joyous scenes below them as the watched from the balconies high above the mall in the Excel. Even the British Military personnel were getting high fived on the way out of the building. A gold medal, Katie had won a gold medal. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The tears returned again when I read Miriam Lord’s front page Irish Times article the next day:

“Please stand for the national anthem of Ireland.” The Tricolour was hoisted upwards to the top spot by naval officers in full dress uniform. 



We stood. And we sang. Never before, said the non-partisans, had they seen the like. The anthem was sung like never before, rattling the rafters, belted out, all the words, with breathtaking fervour.



Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It was spine-tingling. And then the tears came.”

Golden trip to London 2OI2 from Macdara Ferris on Vimeo.

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  1. George Kelly
    August 12, 2012 at 17:13

    Brilliant… great read.

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