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Yahoo! Sports Win Edward R. Murrow Sports Award for Feature on Katie Taylor
by Michael O'Neill
June 29, 2013
     
   
   

(JUNE 29) The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) has announced the winners of the 2013 national Edward R. Murrow Awards, which recognize work of the highest quality produced by radio, television and online news organizations around the world, and the winners of the 2013 RTDNA/UNITY Awards, which honor outstanding achievement in the coverage of diversity.

For the first time, since the Association was formed, women’s boxing featured in one of the main awards- National : Reporting Sports.

WBAN extends its congratulations to Yahoo Sports, senior producer Alan Springer and team at Yahoo Sports Studios Los Angeles, including respected sports journalist Dan Wetzel, who earlier this month took Yahoo's first ever Edward R. Murrow Award.

Before we look at the video and feature that won the award for Springer, Wetzel and Yahoo Sports let us take you back to August 2012 and see for yourself just what went on behind the scenes, what went into planning the video and how it came about.

A tremendous amount of research and fast detective work went into the production as Producer Alan Springer at the time.

"BRAY, IRELAND — Her story seemed to mirror a classic sports storyline I had told before: Athlete comes from humble beginnings. Athlete against all odds. Athlete has the support of the hometown.

But Katie Taylor's story was different. So different. So beyond different.

Hearing her friends and family describing her as just "humble" would be a massive understatement.

You want going against the odds? The sport of female boxing didn't even exist in the Olympics four years ago.

And support of a hometown? How about the weight of an entire nation on your shoulders.

Every night in the Olympic Media Center we met with our editors and photographers to plan out the next day's attack. Storylines discussed ranged from quirky London tidbits to the achieved medal plateaus and usually ended with a comparison over which producer had less sleep the night before. That's one debate if you win you lose.

But last Thursday night was different. Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel had just returned from covering Irish boxer Katie Taylor in a semifinal victory. He implored his wisdom as to the gravity of this moment, as Taylor's gold-medal final matchup the next day would be historic for so many reasons.

He proceeded to tell us about the crowd of 4,000 that he heard took over the streets of Katie's hometown of Bray. Dan heard about how she was a great fighter and that he was truly looking forward to covering her gold-medal match the next night here in London against Russian Sofya Ochigava.

I started thinking there's always two sides to every story. I knew the broadcasts around the world would cover the fight, but what about the story 362 miles across the ocean in Katie's town? What about Bray?

After attempting what I presumed would be a failed request to cover the scene in Bray, my bosses green-lighted taking a photographer to Ireland to see what we could find. What would this blue-collar town (population 32,000) be like the next night when Katie took center stage again?

Six hours later, no sleep earned, a camera, tripod, light panel, two backpacks and two tired journalists in myself and colleague Victor Velazquez boarded a flight to Ireland. Where exactly would we go when we landed? Who was going to tell us how to find the people closest to Katie? Would we ever sleep?

We land in Dublin at 8:14 a.m. local time. We jump into a taxi and told the driver to take us on the 14-mile drive to Bray, a coastal town that clearly loves its favorite daughter. Signs and posters wallpapered the cobblestones streets as a tribute to Bray's own 26-year-old, four-time boxing World Amateur Champion.

Our driver unloaded us at the Royal Hotel. After four cups of strong coffee, we mapped out our story but still stood without any central characters in place. We met the owners of the hotel, John and Maureen O'Conner, who overwhelmed us with their kindness and generosity. Actually, every person along this journey was remarkably nice and warm.

As if they were proud parents to Katie themselves, John and Maureen proceed to call every person in town they knew to help us further develop our story. They sent us photos and videos from their iPhones and laid out the entire map of the town. We couldn't thank them enough. The best we could do to re-pay them was to give them one of our Yahoo! Sports Olympic pins. I think I won in this exchange.

While all this was going on, I heard a radio report in the background discussing the days' activities and viewing parties around town to watch Katie's big fight later that night. The radio reporter interviewed a councilman named John Brady. I ask John (O'Conner) if he knew him., to which he responded, "Of course. Would you like me to call him?"" Gotta love small towns.

After Marry, an employee from the hotel, volunteered to drive us, we ended up at a sports field. It was exactly a site you would have probably imagined — about two hundred straight yards of the lushest green you've ever seen blanketed by grey skies. This was Ireland.

At the end of our hike across the turf with our gear, Marry volunteering to come with us to carry our tripod, we reached the radio voice we'd heard before, John Brady. He proceeded to show us around the makeshift viewing party area where they were setting up, which included two giant video screens, a couple of food trucks and an endless field for capacity.

We now knew where the people would migrate to watch Katie's gold-medal match, but we wanted to know more. We knew our story was taking shape but how about our leading lady and the town where she grew up?

Once again, the generosity of these fine Irish people came through as John and his two daughters drove us to Katie's house to meet her neighbors. As we pulled up, a full block of parties were in effect with kids and elderly people draped in Katie T-shirts and flags. It was as if they were already waiting for their hero to come home.

We learned everything we needed for our story: Katie walks her dog every day around these parts, never turns down autographs, she's very active in soccer and still lives at home with her parents.

After getting to know the real Katie Taylor through the voices of the people who know her best, we headed back to the venue where the viewing party would be held. With more than 10,000 people and just about every single Irish media outlet on the island on hand, we were ready for this fight to begin.

Those of you who follow boxing know the Olympic scoring system is quite different. Katie won two rounds, lost one and tied one. That equaled enough overall points to capture her first gold medal and capture us a perfect ending to our story.

When it was over, we headed back to the airport and onto London that night, stopping at the airport bar for, of course, one pint of Guinness. It is Ireland!

The last 24 hours have been a mixture of an hour or two of sleep in a cab or plane, several more cups of coffee, hours of logging tape and the brilliance of my editor Victor. It's the ultimate example of how the love for a story (and its accompanying adrenaline) wins the day despite no advance planning.

Looking back, if we hadn't jumped in that cab, hadn't heard the radio reporter, hadn't met all those people and hadn't watched the hero of the story reach her dream, we might have produced a more typical athlete's story. But, we got lucky. I guess we had the luck of the Irish!So that was how Alan Springer and Yahoo!Sports got their video to back up this piece from ace reporter Dan Wetzel.

"ExCeL LONDON – They came from Cork and Kerry. They flew in from Dublin and brought their daughter from across town. They came for a 5-foot-5, 132-pound woman whose hands deliver hammer swings, happiness, and hope.

They came because Katie Taylor – Ireland's Katie Taylor – was boxing for the gold medal.

They came because this might be the most perfect Irish story ever, and the Irish love stories. A little kid, mesmerized by her father shadow boxing in their kitchen along the Irish coast, winds up trained by dad in a sport few believed should even be allowed – a girl fight? She turns into the four-time world champion, humble, hard-working, and wrapped, literally, in religion: "The Lord is my Savior and my shield," her robe reads.

"She's an everybody," said 17-year-old Aifric Norton, who flew here with her older brother Aonghus.

They came because, back home, the recession drags on and drags down. And when Katie Taylor hits someone in the mouth it feels, even for a brief moment, like Ireland, too, can hit back.

"Everybody forgets about the recession when she fights," said Con McDonnell, who flew in with three buddies all wearing their "Katie Taylor Made for Gold" T-shirts.

They came because they were the lucky ones who got tickets. "Half of Ireland is here," marveled Barry McGuigan, the old Irish champion. Others just came over to hang around outside the ExCeL Center, stuffing the bars and restaurants in what was once a slum of East London. "There's 1,500 paddies down the road in the pubs," said Graham Regan, noting he knows because that's where he watched Taylor's semifinal victory on Wednesday.

They came because they know back in Taylor's hometown of Bray, in County Wicklow, there were 10,000 people gathered outside to watch on a giant screen. They had to move the viewing to a bigger spot because 6,000 showed up for the semifinal and the town square couldn't hold them all. Across the nation, everyone else just crowded into pubs and living rooms. Many bosses in the city centers of Dublin and Galway just let workers go early rather than pretend they wouldn't sneak off anyway. "The country will stop today," said fan Tony Barrett.

They came because coming had developed into a movement. Each Taylor fight during these Olympics saw the 10,000-seat venue filled with green shirts and homemade signs and Tricolour flags. For the finale, the venue manager estimated 8,000 Irish were in attendance, even with a Brit fighting for gold in a different weight class.

Oh, and the building filled with noise. Lots and lots of noise. Unbelievable amounts of noise. The fans, often these burly men, would sing soccer songs and chant "I-er-LAND, I-er-LAND" and "KAY-t, KAY-t." Louder and louder. This was the wildest scene of the Games, electric and exciting. The International Olympic Committee measured the noise at every session of the Olympics, and nothing matched the decibels of the introduction for a Katie Taylor fight. The second-loudest event was the final seconds of a thrilling Great Britain cycling victory at the Velodrome.

Here, in London, as sure as Katie's fists would be felt, Ireland would be heard.

They came because of Katie. In a nation of writers, they couldn't dream her up. Every possible positive attribute the Irish want to see in themselves, she delivered. "Talented, modest, unaffected, lovely," the Irish Times wrote. Throw in tough, quick, smart and loyal. "Warrior Hero," the Irish Independent dubbed her.

The most popular athlete in Ireland is female. Where else is that true? Where else could that be true? And it's real, with men, grown men, old and young, coming because of what she can do in the field of competition. There was no stigma. This was boxing. Not women's boxing. Twenty years ago to the day, Michael Carruth – also coached by his father – won gold in Barcelona, making him a forever legend. His gold wasn't any bigger than Taylor's.

The nation's male boxers were contending for medals also. Ireland should win three overall, a great haul for them. None of them are as popular. No one comes close. The men say they aren't even bitter. They love Katie, too. "It's great, I know how hard she trains," said fighter Paddy Barnes , still in the men's semifinals. "It goes to show you, equal rights."

"We are here together as a team," Katie Taylor said. "I watched Paddy fight [Wednesday]. Really unbelievable."

So, yes, she may be a woman, but did you see that combination?

They came with young girls at their side and on their laps. Daughters and granddaughters, nieces and cousins, some just three and four years old.

All these little girls, faces painted, in awe of Katie, in awe of the reaction Katie has produced, in awe of a woman fighter who carries herself with unrelenting pride at competing in a non feminine pursuit. I am, she seems to be saying, who I am. From a nation with a difficult history on equality, here was something special.

"That she is female and not male," said 12-year-old Millie Regan, Graham's daughter, "means that we are equal."

They came because so many of them understand equality isn't an obligation but a strength. These aren't the old days. If Ireland is going to get out of its economic plight, out of the banking crisis and real estate collapse, it will need the energy, the talent and, indeed, the fight of all its citizens.

They came because in a nation that has so often intertwined its self-worth with sporting success,Katie Taylor represented something a bit new. Ireland is always the underdog, this rural island home to so much heartbreak. Its success stories are so often about pluck and luck and digging deep. Katie has that, too, of course. All champions do. She also has a killer cross that will flatten you, and she's had it for years. She's claimed four consecutive world championships and five European titles.

Katie Taylor gave Ireland a new feeling, a confidence bordering on cocky. Watch her dominate. Watch her overwhelm. She always wins. The old familiar hope of an upstart was replaced by the powerful sense of strength that comes from cheering on the favorite. This here was proof of Irish might, of Irish fight. No apologies, she's the best.

They came for the gold, which often isn't so likely for Ireland.

"Where our country is at right now," Regan said, "to hear the national anthem at the Olympics, that is what it is all about. There won't be a dry eye in the house, I tell you."

Regan noted the only gold the Irish won at the 2004 Olympics in Athens came in equestrian. "And then the horse failed the doping test," he said before breaking into a big laugh.

"That's pretty Irish in itself."

Not as Irish as this.

Peter Taylor was marveling about all of it the other day. The crowds. The noise. The momentum. The stories from home. The everything.

He's an electrician, 50 years old now. A simple guy who just happened to be a pretty good amateur boxer back in the day. His daughter was an athlete – a star in soccer, rugby, just about anything. She even has professional offers in soccer.

She loved boxing, though. She was 10 and loved it at a time when girls didn't box. The sport wasn't even sanctioned in Ireland, and fathers weren't supposed to teach their daughters to throw a punch, let alone take one. Peter trained her anyway, noting the fitness benefits of the sport.

She was a natural. She could hit like a ton of bricks. She seemed to draw strength from the lonely roadwork and endless time mauling a heavy bag. She had the mentality and courage.

Peter began petitioning for women's boxing to gain recognition. "If it wasn't for my dad pushing, women's boxing wouldn't be in Ireland," Katie said. Peter fought for his daughter to fight, even if he, at times, wished she'd just play soccer.

"It's a little safer," Peter said with a laugh. "You play [soccer], you don't play boxing."

Katie kept winning and winning. They went all over the globe for fights. Asia. The Middle East. Anywhere. Peter's daughter won tournament after tournament, title after title. She kept returning with humility, though, putting in her long runs along that misty coast. Slowly, she went from a novelty to a national treasure, the momentum building for the girl-next-door with a jab for the ages.

Then the IOC decided to let women's boxing into the Olympics, the Olympics right over here in England, too, just an hour's flight. Katie and Peter Taylor knew this would be the pinnacle.

She dreamed of winning gold at age 10, when it wasn't possible. Now, at 26, she wanted this gold, the first gold in the sport, perhaps the only gold for Ireland.

And a nation came along with her.

"I feel like I'm boxing back home in Dublin," Katie said this week, her ability to focus amid the frenzy perhaps the key to this run. "To have the whole nation behind me. Incredible."

"We can't believe this," Peter Taylor said, marveling at the scene here and the stories filtering in of a nation stopping for each four-round fight. "Ireland is in a recession, and people are coming over here …"

He paused for a second.

"Hopefully she is providing a bit of a lift for the country."

Then his eyes began showing some emotion.

"It's a great country," he said. "It's a great country."

They brought Katie out to Rihanna's "Only Girl [in the world]," and the damn roof nearly came off. Katie was dressed in red, hair in a tight braid, Peter on her left shoulder. It was bedlam to the point you could hardly hear her introduced. Russia's Sofya Ochigava was dealing with arguably the most intimidating environment of the Olympics.

The cheers and chants were as strong as ever, but this was a different level of a fight for Katie Taylor. Ochigava had beaten Katie in the past; her skill was respected. "She's a really nice person," Katie also noted later. Once the bell rang, Katie couldn't just fire off straight rights like in her early fights of this tournament. She had to respect Ochigava's speed.

They flash the score after every two-minute round in women's boxing, and after the first it was level, 2-2. The fans began to try to scream off nervous energy, trying to pretend Katie still had this in the bag. She didn't. The second round went 2-1 for Ochigava, giving the Russian a 3-2 lead. Katie was behind. The crowd groaned, but couldn't mount much of an argument.

Then came the third round, and Katie began to find her timing. "I just had to stay relaxed and stick to the game plan," she said. She landed a vicious combo. Then another. She controlled the ring a bit. Ochigava had her moments, but this was the Katie Taylor everyone was waiting for.

The scoreboard flashed 4-1 for the round in favor of Katie. She now led 7-5 overall. The ExCeL Center erupted. The Irish could taste the gold.

Ochigava was unfazed by the crowd's opinion. There was still one last round. She came out and tagged Katie. She walked her down into a corner. There was one exchange in which Katie almost hit the canvas, and the crowd gasped and then exhaled when it was ruled a stumble.

They chanted louder and louder. "KAY-t, KAY-t." Oh, she couldn't lose. She couldn't. That would be pretty Irish. She fired off a jab and connected. Then she hit again. She was rallying. The crowd surged. The bell rang. The fight was over.

Peter jumped on the ring apron and raised his hands. As Katie came over, he hugged her and kissed her headgear. The score wouldn't matter. Win or lose, gold or silver, this was a father proud of his little girl.

"An unbelievable journey, right?" he said later.

The announcement took forever. The crowd rocked back and forth in anticipation, all nerves and fear. Katie paced the ring. Ochigava did the same. "I didn't know which way the fight went," Katie said. The ref finally gathered them, and the public-address system came to life.

"The winner, by a score of 10-8, the winner and Olympic champion, from the country of Ire … "

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You couldn't hear the rest. You didn't need to.

Katie hit her knees. The fans headed toward the sky. Soon, there was a flag in the ring, and a victory lap. The noise just built and built, and if you listened closely enough, you could probably hear it washing in from Bray and Dublin, from perhaps every Irish lung in the four corners of the earth.

"We all cried when they lifted her arm, everyone around us," said Emma Lally, a Bray resident watching with her neighbors outside back home in Ireland . "There were just tears everywhere, screams and jumping up and down."

A half-hour later, back in the ExCeL Center, they brought out Katie Taylor, sent her up a podium to the highest step, and hung a gold medal around her neck. Soon Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, was playing. Katie stood and smiled. The crowd sang along. As the green, white, and orange were lifted up, Graham Regan's prediction didn't turn out completely true. There might have been one or two dry eyes in the house. Perhaps.

This is why they had come. To celebrate a present-day hero who speaks to a bright future that draws its power from values rooted in the past. "These whole Olympics were made for her," Peter said.

They came for Ireland, resting their joy on the strong shoulders of a single woman, the girl boxer from County Wicklow.

She, in turn, delivered gold and the best kind of Irish sing-along imaginable.

"We came because it's history," Regan said.

They came for the legend of Katie Taylor.”

A great ‘scoop’ for Alan Springer and Dan Wetzel who brought their readers and viewers the real life story of how Katie Taylor captured the hearts of a nation. There were many stars in many sports who were under great pressure in London 2012 but for Katie Taylor it was much more for

she was always seen as Ireland’s greatest Gold medal hope, had carried the Irish flag at the opening ceremony and upon her young shoulders rested the hopes of a whole nation at a time of serious economic desperation at home.

So that's the story behind Yahoo ! Sports Edward R. Murrow Award - now sit back and enjoy the video that helped Yahoo win that prestigious RTDNA award.  Link to Sport.Yahoo.com

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