Although the decision has not yet been made on what men’s division will be removed from the Olympic schedule, it is believed that one of the lighter weight classes, in which Barnes fights, will come under threat.
Women will compete at flyweight (48-51kg), lightweight (56-60kg) and middleweight (69-75kg) in London, with 12 boxers taking part at each weight. Taylor has won the last two World Championships and is the current European champion in the lightweight class.
In order for the total number of male and female boxers to remain at the current quota of 286 athletes, there will be one less weight category in the men’s competition, meaning that there will be 10 weights for men.
The 48kg light flyweight division is where Barnes won his medal in Beijing’s Workers Gymnasium and current thinking is that for men 48kg, or, seven and a half stone, is the division most likely to go. Barnes may now be forced to move up to flyweight in the 51kg class, which is a more competitive arena.
But the women’s inclusion for London will offer Ireland one of its best chances for a medal. Although it is expected that China and Russia, particularly, will greatly beef up their women’s boxing programs, Taylor has only lost once in 61 fights and has had 39 consecutive victories over the last three years.
“We are absolutely delighted with the decision to include women’s boxing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London and we are delighted that Katie Taylor will be given this opportunity,” said Dominic O’Rourke, president of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA).
“Over the last number of years Katie has performed with a level of consistency rarely seen in international sport. In that period she has won the world, European and European Union titles and has also won the 2008 Aiba world female boxer of the year award. We are all immensely proud of her achievements and she is a magnificent ambassador for our sport and sport as a whole.”
The decision, announced by the IOC president Jacques Rogge following a meeting of the executive board in Berlin, means that the London Games will be the first to feature both genders participating in all of the Olympic sports. Women will be able to compete alongside men for the first time since boxing was included as a demonstration sport in the St Louis Olympics in 1904. The decision also comes in the wake of a Canadian judge criticising the IOC for holding a bias against women, a view that was supported by the medal count at Beijing, where 165 medals went to men and 127 to women.
“That business in Canada was a stinging rebuke to the IOC,” said Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey.
“I am very proud today, it has been a great day for Irish Olympism,” Pat Hickey, who is also president of the grouping of European Olympic Committees, said. “Katie Taylor is such a fantastic athlete. I am so proud of her. The country is so proud of her. A soccer international, a world champion in boxing and I know the dilemma she had, whereby she did not know whether to go pro if she was not in London or give up or whatever. I know her whole dream and aspiration was London 2012. Now she has it.”
But he warned that it was a bit early to be talking about medals – bookies had her odds on to win a gold medal in London and to be Ireland’s next Olympic gold medallist.
“It is wrong to talk about gold medals at this stage,” he said. “We cannot put too much pressure on her. What is going to happen – and I know this from other Olympic sports – once a sport becomes an Olympic medal sport, countries like the ex-Soviet nations and China change their whole systems completely and they throw all their resources into it.
“But the great thing is that she has got her dream, she has got her wish and she is very well balanced. She has great people around her. Great credit is due to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. They deserve a gold medal. They are our strongest Olympic medal sport and we are so proud of them and the way they keep bring forward the champions.
“The last year and a half has been tough,” he admitted. “There are 14 members on the committee that made the decision. I know them all and none of then had any leanings towards boxing. In fact they were indifferent. But for the past year and a half I have canvassed and lobbied every one them”
Katie is currently preparing for the Ukraine hosted European championships next month — where she is three-time defending champion.
Billy Walsh, the Ireland Olympic boxing coach in Beijing said that the 2012 Olympics had always been a goal for Katie.
“There have been rumours that it was going to happen sooner or later and we’ve been preparing for that,” he said. “She has a major every year — a world or European championships — and a goal at the end of it would be the Olympic games, and she’s been preparing for that.”
Factfile: Katie Taylor
Age : 23
Achievements : Two times World Champion; three times European Champion; two times European Union Champion; 2008 Aiba World female boxer of the year