First defeat since 2011 puts Taylor career in perspective as Olympic dream still alive
OLYMPIC gold medallist Katie Taylor has suffered a shock defeat at the Olympic qualifiers in Samson, Turkey.
In the semi finals of the 60kg lightweight category, Taylor went down to a unanimous 3-0 decision to Russian-born Yana Alekseevna who was represents Azerbaijan.
The loss – Katie's first since 2011 – means that she will have to qualify for the Rio Olympics at the World championships in Astana, Kazakhstan next month.
While the AIBA, the governing body of boxing, have a habit of changing the qualification criteria, as it stands right now a place in the last four in Astana will be sufficient to secure a place in Rio for Taylor.
Her last defeat in a championship event came at the European Union tests in Sardinia in 2006. Like today, her father Pete Taylor wasn't in her corner in 2006.
Taylor was a shade unlucky not to get the decision today as it looked like she did enough to nick the fourth and final round.
Ironically, one of the judges who had given Alekseevna the first three stanzas give the fourth to Taylor. But the other two judges opted for the Azeri fighter who formerly represented the Ukraine.
Southpaw Alekseevna – who is a year younger than Taylor and far taller than the Irish fighter – laid the foundation for her first win over the Olympic title holder in the first round, winning it on all three judges' cards 10-9.
Taylor responded well in round 2, winning it on two judges' cards which meant the fight was level on their cards at the halfway point in the contest. But that was as good as it got for Taylor in a tactical contest.
Alekseevna – who was unlucky to lose to Taylor on a split decision in the semi-finals at the inaugural European Games in Baku last summer – took the third round which left the Irishwoman with a huge task in round 4. Urged by the two Irish coaches, Zaur Antia and John Conlan, she finally came out of her shell in the last two minutes and caught her opponent with a right hand on at least three occasions.
But given the close connections with Turkey and Azerbaijan, Alekseevna was always likely to get the verdict in a tight contest.
Given the body language of Taylor and Antia immediately after the fight, they thought they would get the decision. But it was Alekseevna's hand which was raised in triumph, winning the contest 39-37 on all three judges' cards.
While the result is a major disappointment to Taylor, it is not a disaster. The chances are that she will still defend her Olympic title in Rio in August.
Much, of course, will depend on how Taylor reacts to the loss in the absence of her long-time mentor, coach and father, Pete Taylor.
Taylor meets Bulgaria's Svetlana Staneva in a box-off for third place on Sunday, and if she wins this bout she will qualify for Rio if Alekseevna or Italy's Irma Testa finishes in the top four in Astana.
Sunday's box-off is essentially to decide the ranking list for the lightweight division in Europe for the Olympics. If Taylor wins she will be ranked third and if the European spots are re-allocated in the event of Alekseevna or Testa reaching the semi-finals in Astana, then Taylor will get one of them.
She can avoid all these permutations by reaching the semi-finals herself in Astana, where she is aiming to win a record sixth consecutive World title. However, an AIBA source was unable to confirm that this criteria will apply.
Today's defeat needs to be put in the context of Katie's magnificent career. She was aiming for her 64th consecutive win; her overall record remains at an astonishing 165-8 and she has won 18 championship titles; compromising of one Olympic, five world, six European, five European Union and one European Games title.