By Nick Mulvenney
QINHUANGDAO, China (Reuters) - Ireland's boxing queen Katie Taylor booked her place at the London Olympics without throwing a punch at the women's world championships on Wednesday.
The three-times world and five-times European lightweight champion went through to the last four when her Romanian opponent Mihaela Lacatus withdrew with a neck injury.
Due to regional quotas limiting Europeans to three of the eight places to be won in each of the three Olympic classes this week, it was not until Tajikistan's Mavzuna Chorieva won the next bout that Taylor's place in London was secure.
"It's a dream come true, I just can't believe it really," she told reporters. "It's just years and years of hard work really to get here, now I'm going to be an Olympian."
As the world number one was talking, Natasha Jonas was fighting Norway's Ingrid Egner in her lightweight quarter-final bout and the Briton also booked her place in London when the referee stopped the contest in the fourth round.
"Get in Tash! Get in!" her father Terry shouted from the gallery above the ring, dispelling any doubt the 22nd ranked Jonas might have had about her qualification for the debut of women's boxing at the Games.
The Liverpudlian beamed with delight and, shrouded in a Union flag with the sweat gathering on her corn-rowed hair, was clearly already contemplating fighting on home soil in late July and August.
"To know that I'm going to be going out in front of 10,000 people and they're all going to be cheering for me for a change is just unreal," she said.
"I just can't wait to get onto that stage and show everybody what women's boxing is all about."
That Jonas went into her bout unaware that victory would win a her a place in London was not an isolated case of confusion at the Olympic indoor stadium in the industrial coastal city three hours northeast of Beijing.
The governing International Boxing Association (AIBA) will not officially announce the qualifiers until after Saturday's final, leaving boxers and coaches with sometimes complicated calculations to make.
The regional quota meant Tunisia's Rim Jouini, for example, secured her Olympic place on Monday despite losing her second round bout to Taylor.
In addition to the places to be won this week there are other places to be awarded by the International Olympic Committee's Tripartite Commission, a body set up to ensure smaller nations have representatives at the Games.
Taylor said those places should be distributed to the best boxers who miss out on qualification.
"I think there's still a few wild cards to be given out and it's so important that they give them out to the best boxers," she said.
"We need to showcase the best talent out there, it's so important for the sport. Everybody needs to see the best female talent at the Olympics and I hope they make the right decision."
Taylor, one of Ireland's most popular athletes, said her qualification would make no difference to her ambition to win a fourth consecutive world title on Saturday.
"We'll enjoy this walkover today and this qualification but tomorrow it's back to focusing on the semi-finals," she said.
"It's important to go into the Olympics as the current world champion so that's going to be a huge motivation as well."
Her father and coach Peter, a former Irish amateur champion, was clearly moved by his daughter fulfilling her dream but was keen to stress her many achievements before women's boxing became an Olympic sport.
"I was proud of her long before this moment, she's had an amazing career and being an Olympian was never going to define who Katie was," he said.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)