Achieving second place in July’s British Youth Championships capped a spectacular medal-winning summer for Prestonpans boxer Josh Taylor but before the season’s final bell there was one more prize in store. Last week the teenager was awarded the Athlete of the Month from Clydesdale Bank, who, as sponsors of the Scottish team bound for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune India (11-18 October 2008), are running the awards between April and August as part of its support programme.
Athletes that have demonstrated good performances in the build up to Pune will be nominated for the Athlete of the Month award by the Scottish Team’s Sport Team Managers. A Commonwealth Games Scotland judging panel selects a winner, who receives a £300 award from Clydesdale Bank, to help with the costs of training. Each winner’s club will also receive £100.
In just two months Taylor, who competes in the 51kg Flyweight category, has not only proved a worthy contender for the British title, he also won the Youth Multi-Nations event in Finland, backed up by bronze medals in the Croatian and Russian stages of the Multi-Nations competition. Anyone would expect such combat credentials to hail from someone who has boxed for a large portion of his 17 years. Not so. Until very recently Taylor was more adept with feet than hands in the sport of taekwondo (roughly translated as the “Way of the first and foot”), which he started as a five year old and reached the heights of British Champion.
“My taekwondo instructor advised me to go to boxing lessons to strengthen my hands when I was 15 and my mum who works at Meadowbank told me there was a boxing club there so I went along,” says Taylor.
It must be advice that the instructor has regretted ever since. In his first session at Meadowbank Josh felt a natural affinity with boxing and within two months had fully transferred his allegiance to the sport.
“I always watched boxing on the telly when I was younger and I always wanted to go to it but there were no boxing clubs in my area,” he said. “As soon as I started I pretty much shut the door on taekwondo.”
Transferring skills was not completely seamless. For the first few months Taylor found it a challenge to keep his feet on the ground. “When opponents came to hit me it was very tempting to kick them,” he said with a glint in his eye, adding that taekwondo gave him the perfect grounding for his new passion.
“Taekwondo is probably why I’m such a good boxer,” he said. “It’s been great for my footwork, hand speed and fitness. In boxing we fight three rounds and I think I could last 10 rounds. “Boxing is harder and there’s a lot more contact. When you are in the ring you don’t know what’s coming next until it happens. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
Taylor has since moved to Gilmerton Athletic Boxing Club, managed by Rab Young and as a member of the Scotland squad (he holds the Scottish title) he has Scotland National Performance Coach, Kevin Smith, in his corner.
“Meadowbank was a good start but it was more of a fitness club, then I heard about all the sparring they do at Gilmerton. Rab Young is a really good match maker and he has taken me to places like Canada to fight. He also got me into the Scotland team with Kevin Smith, who has taken me to Europe, Russia, Croatia and Finland. I’m really thankful to both of them.”
Working as a relief life guard in Musselburgh Leisure Centre provides what Taylor believes is the job to fit around his twice daily training routine. “In the morning I run and do pad work and circuits,” he says. “At night I go to the club and do bag work and exercises.” And with 15 wins so far in his total of 19 bouts who can argue he has found a good balance. “It’s been the best season for me so far and in the last two months all the hard work is starting to pay off.”
An unforgettable experience this year was meeting and sparring with WBO super-featherweight champion Alex Arthur, “a brilliant experience and I learnt so much”. Although Commonwealth and Olympics Games are both Josh’s targets, he insists he wants to go the full distance and emulate Arthurs’ achievements.
“It’s great to win the Athlete of the Month award and if I get selected for the team for India I’ll be so excited,” he said. “Next season I want to win every fight I go in to, then box in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games and do well in them. Long term I want to be world champion – end of story.”
Kevin Smith, boxing’s Team Manager for the Scottish Commonwealth Youth Games team, who nominated Taylor for the Clydesdale Bank Athlete of the Month Award, is keen for his fighters to set such exacting goals.
“Any boxer has to have that attitude and desire if they want to be the best, you can’t teach it and Josh has it in abundance,” he said. “One of his best qualities is his determination and his will to win. That’s in him and it’s something you want all your competitors to have.
“He’s got massive potential, he hasn’t been boxing for long and in the last 12 months he has improved immensely. If he keeps putting in the same work rate and is willing to learn I’d be very surprised if he’s not on the plane to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010.”
In the meantime Taylor hopes to be on the plane bound for this October’s Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India. He has met the selection criteria and in August, when Commonwealth Games Scotland considers all nominations against the sport’s selection policy, he will know if he is in the team.
The Pune bound Scottish team – to be announced on 21 August at University of Stirling – will comprise over 40 athletes from nine sports (athletics, badminton, boxing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling) together with 16 support staff. Like Josh, these athletes are looking to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014.
Congratulating Taylor, Steve Reid, Retail Director of Clydesdale Bank said, “Clydesdale Bank are proud to be supporting the Scottish Team at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune in October this year.”
“Josh is an excellent example of the many young people striving for team selection over the summer months and I would like to congratulate him on his many achievements throughout the last year. He is a worthy winner of this month’s Clydesdale Bank Athlete of the Month award.”
Following the Games, the judging panel will consider performances at Pune to select a Clydesdale Bank Athlete of the Games and two runners-up. A further award of £500 and £250 respectively will be awarded with £100 going to the winner’s club.