Olympics: Women boxers stir glorious uproar

By David Leggat

Aucklander Alexis Pritchard battles Sofya Ochigava of Russia in the lightweight boxing before being beaten comprehensively. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Aucklander Alexis Pritchard battles Sofya Ochigava of Russia in the lightweight boxing before being beaten comprehensively. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's mid-afternoon at the ExCeL Arena boxing hall and the place is in uproar.

The volume is deafening, absolute, fabulous pandemonium as an Irish woman and her British opponent clatter into each other with real relish.

An Olympic official said the decibel level hit 113.7 during the fight, the highest of the Games. It surpassed the febrile atmosphere at the cycling finals at the velodrome and was not far off the 140-decibel roar of a jet engine.

It could be heard way down the main thoroughfare of the giant arena in the Docklands at the wrestling complex.

The Irish had taken over the place, it was packed out, their tricolour flags outnumbering the Union Jacks, the fans a sea of green, and what's more their woman, Katie Taylor, was en route to a convincing victory over a pretty handy opponent, Natasha Jonas.

"I've never experienced an atmosphere like this before," Taylor said.

"I knew it was going to be great but it took me by surprise a small bit.

"It's a privilege to box for them, as well as my country."

Taylor is a genuine Irish sporting hero, whom you're unlikely to have heard of unless you're a boxing nut - and more importantly right now, among the most important figures in the first women's competition on the Olympic boxing programme.

The woman from Bray, in Wicklow, is the four-time world lightweight champion, used to play soccer for Ireland and is a rock-solid favourite for the gold medal when it's contested on Friday morning (NZT).

Taylor is also a highly skilled boxer - some knowledgeable folk in the fight game reckon her the world's best woman pugilist - who is the most effective antidote to those who rail against women's boxing being taken seriously.

She was a prominent voice among those pressing for women to have the opportunity to showcase their talents in the ring at the London Games, and she is leading the way in the ring too.

"People didn't really realise the standard of women's boxing. I think we're shocking the world here this week, they can't believe the standard and it's opening their eyes," she said.

An impartial view, over several bouts, would be that the standard is mixed. Some bouts have been good value; others veering towards a flailing approach.

However, it is a foot in the door, and there's no reason to think women's boxing is about to get its toes squashed before the Rio Games in 2016.

Boxing crowds differ from, say, the equestrian fanciers at the Games.

The atmosphere had more than a touch of the nightclub about it, with boxers entering down a corridor with flashing lights, akin to a garish nightclub, with thunderous music accompanying the fighters to the ring.

"We have had an unbelievable reception. Women's boxing has had its day and the crowds are appreciating our skill and enjoying what we do," Auckland lightweight Alexis Pritchard said yesterday.

Pritchard won her first-round bout before being comprehensively beaten by a strongly built Russian, Sofya Ochigava, who is quick of feet and punch, world No2 in the division and en route to face Taylor for the gold.

There are three women's divisions in London. Their fervent hope is that this will lead to more involvement in Rio. They're not doing their cause any harm in London.

As Jonas put it: "When you see women's boxing at the highest level and that kind of performance [from Taylor] how can you argue that women aren't just as good as the men?"

It's a fair point, which the highly impressive Irishwoman is likely to ram home on Friday.

- NZ Herald

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