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Boxing: More awards for Katie Taylor as she sets out on the 'Road to Rio'
By Michael O’Neill
December 19, 2012

(DEC 19) Katie Taylor winning Olympic gold in the ExCeL Arena has been voted Ireland’s most iconic sporting moment of 2012 by a massive 75% of Irish people, according to Pembroke Communications’ 2012 Sports Sentiment Index (SSI). The SSI is a comprehensive 1,000 person nationally representative survey that examines the attitudes of Irish people towards sport, their sporting heroes, participation levels, the impact of sport on the Irish psyche and the contribution sport is making to local communities.

Katie is also far and away Ireland’s most loved sports person, with 53% of people stating she is the greatest current Irish sports star, well ahead of the brilliant Ulster golfer Rory McIlroy (16%) and Ireland and Leinster rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll (13%), the previous poll toppers.

Mick O’Keeffe, managing director of Pembroke Communications said: “Katie Taylor has moved from being a star to super star over the last 12 months and it is no shock she dominates the public’s affection. Over 1.1m people watched her fight in August and she is now firmly the nation’s favourite.

“The Sports Sentiment Index also proves that Ireland remains a nation of sports lovers and it is encouraging to see participation levels on the increase. People are moving towards sport to keep fit and exercise rather than organised team sports and only 12% of the population takes part in no physical activity at all.

“This survey is one the most comprehensive to date, providing hugely valuable data and insights into Irish sporting preferences and participation in sport.”

Research Findings (selected): (top three from each category)

Who, in your opinion, is Ireland’s greatest current sports star?

53% Katie Taylor
16% Rory McIlroy
13% Brian O’Driscoll

What was the best/most memorable/iconic sporting moment of 2012? (selected)

75% Katie Taylor winning gold at London 2012
7% Rory McIlroy winning the US PGA title

6% Michael McKillop being presented with his Paralympic gold medal by his Mum

What, in your opinion, was the greatest Irish sporting achievement of 2012? (selected)

60% Katie Taylor winning the gold at the London 2012 Games
12% The performance of the Irish Paralympics team in London 2012
5% Rory McIlroy winning the U.S PGA Championship

Meantime, official confirmation today that the Olympic Champion will return to ring on Sunday, February 24th at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin. The bout will see Taylor start on "The Road to Rio", a journey she is hoping will end with a second Olympic Gold at the 2016 games in Brazil.

It will be a case of back to business for the 26-year-old from Bray at the 2,000 seater Daniel Liebeskind designed Theatre when she takes on a top class international opponent as she puts the London Olympics behind her and sets her sights on future goals following her decision to remain an amateur boxer and target further Olympic, World and European titles.

"It's great to have a date to focus on now and it will be great to box at home as Olympic Champion," said Taylor. "I was humbled by all the people who came over to support me in London, it felt like the Irish fans took over the arena for my fights so it's great now that people will have a chance to see me on home soil taking on world class opposition.

"I boxed at the O2 in 2009 and it was a brilliant experience and the crowd’s reaction that night was amazing and really lifted me and it would be great to repeat that in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in February."

Taylor took the London Olympics by storm earlier this year with a series of brilliant performances en route to winning Gold as women's boxing made its Olympic debut. The achievement cemented her place as one of Ireland's greatest ever athletes and saw her receive international acclaim with USA Today naming her as one of the most inspirational athletes of the games alongside track stars Usain Bolt, Mo Farrah and David Rudisha. She topped the 2012 charts as the most "Googled" person in Ireland as well as the top trending Irish person, both indicators of how her success has gripped the nation.

The months since the games have been a hive of activity for Taylor who released her book "My Olympic Dream", travelled the country to book signings, award ceremonies and charity events and more recently travelled to Armenia to pick up her award from amateur boxing's international governing body AIBA as their Women's Boxer of the Year. Whilst in Armenia she was also appointed as an AIBA Ambassador for Women's Boxing. She was back in London this past weekend to attend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year where she was recognised for being one of the stars of the 2012 Games. Further honours are expected to follow before the year end.

"It's all been a bit of a whirlwind really and it's been such a busy time but I'm really looking forward to getting back in the ring and boxing again," said Taylor. "I've tried to keep life as normal as possible and the support from people wishing me well has been brilliant. It seems everyone knows who I am now but I've never been interested in being a 'celebrity' so that has taken some adjusting to. I took a few weeks off from training after the Olympics but I've been back in the gym for quite a while now so it’s good to be back in a routine and training hard again with a fight date to focus on."

Despite a medal collection that now boasts an Olympic Gold, four World Championship Golds, five European Championship Golds and four European Union Gold medals Taylor claims that her hunger for precious metal remains undiminished. "The Olympics really opened people's eyes to the sport and the standard at the games was so high and it's only going to get harder to defend my titles. The major boxing nations are investing hugely in the sport and some of my rivals like Sofya Ochigava in Russia, the Chinese girl Cheng Dong and Natasha Jonas from the UK now face serious competition in their own countries so the standards keep rising as the sport's profile is increasing.

“I'm still only 26 and I feel I have things to prove and things to achieve in the sport. I'm constantly learning in the gym and looking to improve. I've always set myself goals and I want to retain that Olympic title in Rio in 2016 and retain my European and World titles as well so I'm hungrier than ever to keep improving.

“It was a very long road to get to the top step of that podium in London. When I started boxing as a child I always dreamed of winning a Gold medal for my country at the Olympics but obviously for so long it didn't look like that would ever be possible. I think I'm proof that if you work at your dreams hard enough and persevere they can come through. It's brilliant to see the effect winning the Gold medal has had on kids when I meet them and it’s amazing to think that they are taking inspiration from what I have done and see that nothing is impossible.”

Her father and trainer Pete says preparations are already well advanced for Katie's return to the ring. "Katie's incredibly driven and she's not happy to settle for everything she's won to date. She wants to keep on improving and to keep winning. Hopefully everything we are doing here will lead to the next Olympics in Rio and that's the long term goal but in the medium term it's about defending her European title next October and obviously the short term goal is this fight on February 24th.

“I know a lot of her European rivals won't want to box her until the European Championships so to prepare for those I want Katie to box world class opposition and that will mean bringing over some of the best girls in the world to box her. We're looking at a number of possibilities right now and will confirm her opponent in the next few weeks.

“We worked with Brian Peters before when Katie fought at the O2 in 2009 on the night Bernard Dunne won the World title. She relished the opportunity to showcase her skills to the Irish public and the crowd was incredible that night. The atmosphere really helped to prepare Katie for boxing in front of big crowds and it stood to her in London.”

Promoter Brian Peters says he's honoured to be working with Taylor. "Katie will be immortalised for what she has achieved in her career. Even before London her achievements were extraordinary while the role she played in having women's boxing included as an Olympic sport should never be forgotten. She lifted the whole nation during the summer and in an age of fleeting celebrity she is truly a sporting icon and a national treasure. I'm delighted that people will have a chance to witness her talent first hand at a venue like the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. We want to make this a family event for young and old because Katie is such an inspirational figure and as a nation we could not ask for a better role model for the next generation.”

Stephen Faloon, General Manager of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre added, "After being addicted to Katie's fights in the Excel Arena last summer I am honoured and excited that the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre will be transformed into a boxing arena for Katie's return to the ring! It will be a homecoming to remember!”

Tickets for “The Road to Rio” priced from €40 (with a discount available for under 14's) go on sale on Wednesday, December 18th from Ticketmaster.ie (0818 719 377). Doors open on Sunday, February 24th at 5pm.

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