- in In Pictures
Almost every sportsperson who has reached the top of their field was inspired by an athlete that came before them. Often it’s one from their own sport, but sometimes that inspiration can come from an entirely different discipline. In this series, BBC Sport Scotland speaks to Scottish sporting stars about some of those heroes.
This week, world champion boxer Josh Taylor tells us about his sporting hero, the legendary Italian motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi, and his own lifelong passion for motorbikes.
Most people would imagine my sporting hero would be someone from the world of boxing, but the truth is before I got involved in the sport at the age of 14 or 15, I wasn’t really that into boxing. I just wasn’t interested.
Motorbikes are my first love. I’ve been around bikes my whole life thanks to my dad. He used to race and there are pictures of me as a newborn at the track. Dad raced at club level for a few years, at Knockhill in the Scottish Championship and at East Fortune in East Lothian. He did that for a few seasons, but when I came along he had a choice – either buy a box of nappies or a set of tyres for his bike. So I had to come first and unfortunately he had to put the bikes on the back burner. I’m to blame for his racing career coming to an end!
We would still enjoy going along to watch racing, though, and probably my two earliest sporting heroes were two Scottish riders, Neil McKenzie and Steve Hislop. I used to go and watch them every year at Knockhill when the Scottish round of the British Superbikes was on.
When my dad and I would watch MotoGP on the telly it was when Valentino Rossi was the superstar and I became a huge fan of his.
He was the 125cc world champion at the time and then came through on 250cc and the big class as well. He won nine world championships in all and is clearly one of the greatest of all time. As well as being a winner he’s a real entertainer too, which I love. He always puts on great celebrations for the crowds. His suits always stood out too and he was always just a level above everyone else. He was my hero.
I’d watch Rossi winning world title after world title, but he wasn’t just winning them, he was blowing everybody else away. Many of those world titles were won in really dominant fashion. He was a bit like Marc Marquez is now in the MotoGP Championship – a cut above everybody else. Rossi was just class and great to watch.
And even now he’s still up there at the age of 41, at the elite level in motorbike racing. He’s still very competitive, which is to be admired. He’s racing around with kids that are 19, 20, 21 years old and he’s still pushing them. His body is bound to be broken at this stage, loads of broken bones with the amount of crashes he’s had over the years. And yet he’s still at the top and doing really well. I follow him on Instagram and Twitter and I like to see his updates on his training, and I still cheer for him whenever I’m watching MotoGP.
When I was watching Rossi as a kid, I myself was racing motocross and was pretty good. I was competing in the Scottish Championships and getting top three finishes out of fields of 40 guys. I was doing quite well but we just didn’t have the money to keep it going and stay competitive with the top guys who had sponsorships, two bikes plus spares. If we crashed that was us, we were out.
I had one particularly nasty crash when I came flying off my bike and did my back in, my liver, my kidneys, everything. I was coughing and peeing blood for a couple of days, it wasn’t good, but it didn’t faze me at all. I was injured for a couple of weeks and a bit sore, but as soon as I was able to get back out on the bike I did. I just loved it.
To this day I don’t really think there’s anything, aside from being in the boxing ring, that comes close to that adrenaline rush you get on the bike. The feeling of the speed and doing the jumps, it’s incredible. You just can’t get enough, you just want to do it more and more. You know the dangers, but when you’re on it the bike the danger doesn’t even enter your head. You’re just enjoying the bike and enjoying the thrill of being on it.
I still have a motorbike but it’s almost three years since I’ve been out on it. I can’t risk falling off and ending my boxing career too soon. The last time I went on it I was going down the road with my friend, who was on his bike as well, and we had a couple of close calls with car drivers not paying attention. After that I put the bike away and I thought it’s not worth risking my career for. I can still go and watch racing and enjoy it that way.
And when the day comes when I hang up my boxing gloves, I’ll be straight back out on the bike. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to meet Valentino Rossi and he can give me some pointers. I’d love that. I never really get star struck but I think I would be if I met him. I don’t know what I would say.
Josh Taylor was speaking to BBC Scotland’s Andy Burke.