Boxing: Taylor strikes blow for her sport

Katie Taylor of Ireland celebrates winning her bout against Sofya Ochigava of Russia during the Women's Light (60kg) Boxing final bout on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on Thursday in London, England. (GETTY)

Katie Taylor struck a blow for herself, her country and her sport with victory in the women's lightweight boxing final at the London Olympics on Thursday.

Women's boxing, a demonstration sport as far back as the 1904 St Louis Games, finally made its Olympic debut in London.

Its belated arrival followed a series of successful sexual discrimination challenges in the 1980s and 1990s in several European countries and a number of U.S. states where the sport was not officially recognised.

Three finals were staged on Thursday, with Taylor winning the second after British flyweight Nicola Adams had won the honour of becoming the first women's gold medallist.

Taylor was the outstanding exponent in a competition that captured the imagination of sellout crowds at the ExCel Centre with supporters of the Irishwoman generating an extraordinary din whenever she competed.

Despite Ireland's current economic plight, the fans have flocked across the Irish Sea to watch the 26-year-old from Bray, who was already 10 when women's boxing was licensed in Britain.

She has been forced to fight in distant lands and on the undercard in Ireland and, despite winning four world titles, trained in a gym without a toilet or shower.

There are records of women's boxing bouts in Britain in the 18th century while the first match in the United States was staged in New York in 1876.

But while men's boxing has been a prominent sport in the modern Games since St Louis, with the notable exception of the 1912 Stockholm Olympics when boxing was illegal in Sweden, women's boxing was relegated to the shadows.

The prejudices of the times played a major part.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Games that started in Athens in 1896, did not believe women should take part in public, organised sport and was opposed to their participation in the Olympics.

His views modified with the years and women did compete at the 1900 Paris Games, although there were only 22 out of 997 competitors.

The women's movement received a setback at the 1928 Antwerp Games when a number of athletes collapsed at the end of the 800 metres final.


"The affected dismay among male officials, with professed concern for the functional well-being of the female form, resulted in this race being omitted from the Games until 1960," wrote David Miller in "The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC".

The 1500 metres was not introduced to the Games until 1972 and a long battle to introduce the marathon, which became a mass participation sport during the 1970s, was finally won in time for the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Running in ferocious heat, American Joan Benoit clocked two hours 24 minutes 52 seconds, a time which would have won 13 of the 20 Olympic men's marathons up to that point.

The pioneer of women's boxing hailed from the English county of Yorkshire. Barbara "The Mighty Atom" Buttrick, was herself inspired by a female fighter from the early 1900s called Polly Burns.

Buttrick acquired a book on self-defence and, because of the ban in Britain, boxed in France and moved to the U.S. in 1952 where she would travel from city to city in search of opponents.

On August 31, 1957, she knocked out the American bantamweight Phylis Kugler, a landmark fight as it was the first time a licence had been granted for woman to box. In retirement, Buttrick founded the women's International Boxing Federation.

Women's professional boxing enjoyed its moment in the limelight thanks to Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali who as Cassius Clay won the light-heavyweight title at the 1960 Rome Games.

Ali outpointed Jacqui Frazier, the daughter of the late Joe Frazier, who fought two unforgettable bouts against Muhammad Ali.

Not everybody has welcomed the inclusion of women's boxing into the Games.

The British Medical Association opposed its introduction and Cuban coach Pedro Roque was quoted as saying: "Women should be showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face".

But the sport is here to say and De Coubertin's latest successor Jacques Rogge was in the audience on Thursday.

"It was fantastic and I am a very happy man," he said.

"There was some criticism of whether women should box and of their level and technique. We have been vindicated today, that was a good decision and it is only the beginning.

"We are fighting the right cause. I think this is a strong message around the world. Young women will pick up sport."

Before Thursday's competition, Buttrick, 82, spoke for a generation of women who were denied the chance to compete at an Olympics.

"I was one of the boxers who travelled," she said.

"I'm glad to see the times have changed and I would like to be one of the girls competing at these Games."