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Boxing: Gloves on to be top gun

WITH determination etched on his face Josh Taylor, gazes down from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle.

Josh Taylor is aiming to be on top of the podium with a Commonwealth Games gold medal around his neck     Photograph: Alistair Devine and Stuart Gray
Josh Taylor is aiming to be on top of the podium with a Commonwealth Games gold medal around his neck Photograph: Alistair Devine and Stuart Gray

Although looking across the iconic skyline of the Scottish capital below, his real focus is 50 miles away, along the M8 in Glasgow, where the East Lothian boxer hopes to claim his own place in history.

This weekend marks 200 days until the 2014 Commonwealth Games get under way and for Taylor it feels so close now, he can almost taste it. "There were 10,000 people shouting my name at the Olympics in London, but this time it's going to be for Scotland," he says. "That will be so special. I'm already imagining what it will feel like to stand on top of the podium with a gold medal round my neck and hearing Flower of Scotland play."

In Taylor's mind, nothing less than victory will do. At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, he claimed silver in the final of the 60kg lightweight division after being beaten 11-3 by England's Thomas Stalker, an experience that left him so frustrated he was tempted just to throw away his medal.

Back then, he was a rookie making his Commonwealth Games debut, but the 23-year-old professes to be in a very different head space now.

"I've a lot more experience under my belt and improved 10-fold since Delhi," he says. "I was just 19 and had only been boxing four years. Competing on a massive stage I always felt nervous and didn't know if I could do it. I've now been to two European Championships, two Worlds and an Olympic Games. Going into Glasgow, I'm feeling confident."

Taylor, from Prestonpans, splits his time between Sheffield, where he trains four days a week under GB Boxing's performance director Rob McCracken, and Lochend Amateur Boxing Club in Edinburgh where his coach is Terry McCormack.

A black belt in Tae Kwon Do and British champion in his early teens, Taylor made the switch to boxing at 15 after watching former Commonwealth, European Boxing Union and WBO super featherweight champion Alex Arthur train at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh.

Four years later, Taylor claimed his spot in the Scottish team going to Delhi. His silver medal caught the eye of British selectors and in 2012, he became the first Scottish lightweight boxer to qualify for the Olympics since Dick McTaggart claimed gold in Melbourne in 1956.

Having dropped a difficult 4kg to make the team, Taylor made it to the final 16 in London - narrowly missing out on the quarter-finals after being beaten 15-10 by former world champion and No 2 seed Domenico Valentino of Italy.

Taylor has since continued to add to his international experience and in October represented Great Britain in the 64kg light welterweight division at the AIBA Boxing World Championships in Kazakhstan.

He beat Akiel Outram of Trinidad and Tobago in his first match to tee up a thrilling showdown against Kazakhstan's Merey Akshalov. After a closely-fought bout, Taylor looked to have done enough, but the judges awarded the win to Akshalov. The Scot was "gutted" not to win but still pleased with his performance.

"I left it all in there - so no regrets," he said at the time.

Taylor remains sanguine about how things panned out. "In another country the fight could have gone another way, but at the end of the day I was fighting the home favourite," he says. "That is always a big factor in a close fight like that one."

With barely time to draw breath, the week after the World Championships he headed to the Golden Gong International Boxing Tournament in Macedonia, followed a fortnight later by the Tammer Tournament in Finland.

"I had two fights, won both, and got best boxer of the tournament award in Macedonia," says Taylor. "I had three fights in Finland and won there too - three out of three - and got the best boxer there as well. I needed to meet the qualification standard for the Commonwealth Games so I had to go to an extra couple of tournaments to be certain of that.

"I think I've met the selection criteria now but nothing is for sure yet when it comes to a place in the team. I should find out at the end of March."

Not even a lingering injury that has plagued him for much of the past year can dampen his enthusiasm. "I stretched and tore the ligaments in my left hand," he says. "I've had a few injections to try to tighten it all up and kill some of the pain.

"At first it really did my head in but I'm used to it now. The hardest thing is trying to keep momentum going with an injury like this because obviously I haven't been able to do a lot of punching with my left hand. It has limited the training I've been able to do lately."

After returning from a GB Boxing training camp in Germany in early December, Taylor took the opportunity to rest his hand for a fortnight but saw in 2014 with two black eyes following some friendly practice sparring with his Lochend team-mate Lewis Benson and Craigmillar's Jason Easton.

"Not the best look for New Year," he conceded. "I was still wary of throwing it [his left hand] but it's starting to get better. I only really got caught by them with those two shots."

Still it provided a useful opportunity to gauge not only how his hand was healing, but to size up the competition with Taylor ranking Easton among his biggest rivals for the 64kg light welterweight division crown this summer.

"Jason has had a bad hand too so he's been trying to get back to fitness," he says. "If I go to the Scottish Championships next month I will probably bump into him there."

It is not every day that you get to stand on a cannon in a world-famous castle battlement, shorts billowing in the wind as curious tourists look on, but you get the feeling Taylor would far rather it was a medal rostrum.

"I'm starting to visualise it every time I'm training now," he says. "My form is pretty good at the moment and it feels like everything is starting to come together for Glasgow. I'm getting fitter, stronger and making sure I'm in the best shape possible. I can't wait now - it's going to be amazing."

o Josh Taylor is one of the subjects of a series of Team Scotland "ones to watch" images released to mark 200 days to go until the Commonwealth Games. Keep up with all the Team Scotland news on the supporters' website goscotland.org or on Twitter@Team_Scotland

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