Huge challenge for Katie Taylor in Olympic qualifiers

Katie Taylor
Katie Taylor

KATIE Taylor faces the biggest challenge of his remarkable career when she steps into the ring at lunch time today to face Ukrainian-born Yana Alekseevna in the Turkish Black Sea port of Samsun.

At stake is a place in the Rio Olympics in August, where Taylor hopes to defend her 60kg lightweight title.

Unlike her male team mates, Brendan Irvine and David Oliver Joyce who are eligible to participate in a box-off if they are beaten in the semi-finals today, Taylor must win to secure her spot in Rio.

But a loss doesn't necessarily mean the end of her 2016 Olympic ambitions. Indeed, barring an injury or a catastrophic loss of form, Taylor will defend her title in Rio.

She only needs to secure a place in the semi-finals at next month's women's World Boxing championships in Astana to book a spot on the plane to Brazil.

But Taylor, who celebrates her 30th birthday in July, has been a winner all her life. Today she is aiming for her 63rd consecutive victory in the ring – she hasn't lost since a controversial defeat in 2011 at a multi-nation tournament in Bulgaria.

Her overall record is an astonishing 165-7 and she was won 67 successive championship fights on the way to collecting 18 championship title compromising of one Olympic, five world, six European, five European Union and one European Games title.

So why should we be fearful of any fate today? There are three reasons. Firstly, based purely on mathematical probabilities, it is extraordinarily difficult to keep an unbeaten run intact, particularly in an individual sport.

Time waits on nobody. It is probably nothing more than a coincidence but Taylor has been surprisingly left out of the list of eight female boxers named today as ambassadors for next month's women's World championships by AIBA.

Secondly, and more importantly, 28-year-old Alekseevna has come closer than any other boxer in this century to defeating the Bray pugilist. In the semi final of the European Games in Baku last Summer, the southpaw came astonishingly close.

The outcome couldn't have been closer. Three judges from Poland, Finland and China all scored their bout 38-38. The Polish and Finnish judges gave rounds two and four to Taylor, while the Chinese judge awarded her rounds one and three. But Taylor got the rub of the green as the Polish and Finnish judges gave her the nod for a majority 2-1 win.

Alekseevna is something of a mystery figure in women's world boxing. Born in St Petersburg, Russia, she initially represented Ukraine under the name Yana Sidor. At a tournament in 2011 she lost to Russia's Sofya Ochigava – who was beaten by Taylor in the gold medal bout at the Olympic Games in London .

Moving up to the 64kg light-welterweight division, Sidor boxed for the Ukraine at the 2012 women's World championships in China finishing tenth overall.

But after winning a tournament in Ukraine in late 2012, at her next international appearance in the Feliks Stamm Memorial tournament in Warsaw in April 2013 – she had a new surname; Alekseevna, a new country; Azerbaijan, and she was back competing at lightweight.

Taylor and Alekseevna first clashed in the final of the 2014 women's World Championships in the Korean island of Jeju. Katie won her fifth consecutive world title with a unanimous 3-0 verdict thought she was troubled at times by her taller opponent.

Alekseevna possesses a ferocious punch and is a classic counter puncher.  Effectively, Taylor cannot afford to engage her in hand to hand combat. Instead she has to use single accurate punches to score against her and retreat at speed.

The third reason to be fearful for Taylor is the fact that long-time coach and father Pete Taylor won't be in her corner today. Ominously, the last time she was beaten in a championship fight her father was absent from her corner as well.

In the other days of her international career, the then head of the High Performance Unit Gary Keegan, experimented with the idea of sending other coaches with her. 

So Pete Taylor was back in Bray when Katie lost to Turkey's Gulsum Tatar – who coincidentally was beaten by Alekseevna in a last sixteen contest in Samsun this week – in the quarter-finals of the European Union championships in Porto Torres, Sardina in June 2006.

Ever since, until this tournament in Turkey, Pete has been in her corner. In her two bouts so far in Samsun, Taylor has been in excellent form but she will need to produce a masterful tactical performance to subdue Alekseevna.

Though Katie hates losing, defeat today wouldn't necessarily be a disaster – in fact it might ease the pressure on her ahead of the Olympics.