Given that she has two world titles to her name already, the general gist of the stories were that the Bray native will be delivering gold in London three years from now. This sort of instant hype and unnecessary heaping on of pressure is unfortunate but apparently inevitable in the modern media environment.
Everybody who ‘s ever dealt with the woman testifies that Taylor is a well-grounded, self-motivated individual and, given her impact in two different codes, it’s fair to assume she’s not the type to have her head turned by excess publicity. Indeed, those around the women’s international soccer team are struck by her humility and her work ethic when she links up with the squad. Even still, somebody should pull her aside and warn her about Ireland and Olympians. The nation expects. It has no right to do but it does.
We have been down this road before with Sonia O’Sullivan. The moment she started evincing promise back in the early 1990s, the expectations were of immediate gold in major championships. Even more ludicrously, there were some who would complain if she didn’t win whatever televised race they happened to catch her running in on a given night during the summer. Never mind that she was up there in the top five female distance runners in the world for more than a decade, giving us a rooting interest. That wasn’t enough for the bar-stool critics who demanded instant gratification.
Some people mocked O’Sullivan’s Olympic debacles in 1996 and 2004 as much as they celebrated her silver in 2000. Through it all, too many of those watching ignored the most obvious fact. Here was a unique character giving us a presence at the elite level of athletics that we may never, ever have again. Before Olive Loughnane walked from nowhere into 20km silver in Berlin on Sunday, when was the last time any Irish person tuned into a world-class athletics event and got to enjoy seeing one of our own finishing in the top three? And with all due respect, when will be the next time?
The O’Sullivan treatment is instructive because it offers a glimpse of how we may well be the most over-expectant nation in the world. Harsh? Maybe fair. Think about the international soccer team. We fully expect them to qualify for the World Cup. At the very least, we demand a trip to the play-offs. Yet, this is a first XI largely made up of championship players and Premiership journeymen, just one of whom plays regularly in the Champions League. And how long John O’Shea can retain starter status at United remains to be seen.
We have this warped view that when the athlete or footballer or boxer is wearing green, they can perform magic. And sometimes they do. But the reaction to Katie Taylor’s sudden transformation into genuine Olympic prospect this past week was a tad frightening. Think of all the stuff that can happen to her over the next three years. If a week is a long time in politics, what does that make three years in sport? A lifetime?
“It’s going to be hard over the next three years. I think a lot of people feel that I’m just going to turn up and win a gold medal,” said Taylor the other day. “All I can do is to try my best to keep going as I am and to improve as a boxer, enjoy my boxing for the next two years and, hopefully, that will lead to qualification and Olympic gold.
“I’ve no doubt that over the next few years women’s boxing is going to improve again. It is going to be the hardest task just to qualify for the Olympics. In three years time you don’t know what’s going to happen. There are always going to be new girls coming up, even here in Ireland there are girls coming up, which is brilliant. I can’t afford to get complacent at all.”
She won’t get complacent but that won’t stop the rest of us. The armchair fans will reach for the remote three summers from now and demand to be entertained and inspired. Most of them won’t give her a second thought in between. The government will, to its credit, give her