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, Ireland. 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 Katie 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!
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