Boxing

Kellie Harrington: Fair City In Tokyo, Tourism In Portland Row, And Going Pro?

Kellie Harrington: Fair City In Tokyo, Tourism In Portland Row, And Going Pro?

You'd hazard a guess there's not a person in Ireland who hasn't heard the name Kellie Harrington. If they hadn't heard it before the Tokyo Olympics, they've certainly heard it now.

But, as she joins an media session in her role as an FBD Insurance Ambassador from her Dublin home, Ireland's newest Olympic champion is in typically friendly, smiley form, as she reminds us, ""Just in case anyone forgets, my name's Kellie!"

Kellie Harrington says nation's joy was "worth its weight in gold"

Her cheerful introduction is in keeping with the relatable, down to earth Harrington we saw during the Olympics. From her delighted "Hakuna matata!" after sealing a medal, to the sportsmanship displayed after each fight, Harrington did her nation proud throughout the Tokyo Games.

Kellie Harrington Silver medallist Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil, left, gold medallist Kellie Harrington of Ireland, centre, and bronze medallists Mira Marjut Johanna Potkonen of Finland and Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand with their women's lightweight boxing medals at Tokyo 2020. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The gold medal fight in Tokyo against Brazilian Beatriz Ferreira pitted the two most recent lightweight world champions against each other. The route to the final was tough for Harrington, but she says she took things one step at a time so as to focus on fights as they came.

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When I went out to the Olympics, I didn't look at the draw. But I think that I was number one seed? I was told that I was number one seed, I don't know whether I was or I wasn't.

Beatriz was number two seed - well, I just took it that she was number two seed. I was like, "well, she's number two seed, we're on opposite sides of the draw, if I'm gonna meet her it'll be at the final, I won't worry about her until then.

I don't feel a need to worry about them - if anything they should worry about me! The coaches do all that, they come up with a plan and I trust them.

Straight away after the bronze, I texted Noel [her club coach] and said, "that was a tough one, now who's next, what's she like?" Because I don't know who's next!

It's a simple but ruthlessly effective way to approach something of the scale of an Olympic medal fight, and it served Harrington well in Tokyo.

The trip to Japan was a lonely one for athletes, as COVID restrictions enforced teams to stay to themselves. Homesickness was a factor for everyone in Tokyo, but Kellie Harrington had the solution to hers.

When I’m away, I try to save – now, don’t think of me any differently – you know Fair City? I try to save all the Fair City for when I go away and I watch them then on the RTÉ Player on my phone when I’m away.

I know it’s Carrigstown and it’s very unrealistic and not real, but just hearing the Dublin voices and Irish voices makes me feel a little bit normal, like. I’ve tried to be catching up on the ones I’ve lost now between the final and today!

Harrington declined to comment on whether a cameo appearance in the iconic RTÉ soap was on the cards.

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Kellie Harrington Kellie Harrington's mother Yvonne is congratulated outside her Portland Row home, after watching Kellie's Tokyo 2020 Olympics lightweight final bout against Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Back home at Portland Row, the scenes were very different to those in Tokyo. The footage of Kellie's family and neighbours watching her gold medal fight and promptly celebrating on Portland Row became one of the iconic images of the games, and Harrington reveals that she wasn't quite aware of just how huge the crowds were back home until late in the day.

I didn’t know about what was going on at home, but I did know I had the support of a nation. My ma’ had said, “everyone’s supporting you,” and Mandy said “everybody’s supporting you,” and I knew that, but I didn’t know to what extent until after the fights.

I felt like, no matter what I do, I’ve already won because I’d already won the hearts of a nation. And I had won the smiles of a nation, the tears of joy of a nation – and that felt like a win, that’s golden.

Midway through the call, Harrington jumps up to answer the door - and returns with hands full of cards, letters, and postcards that have been sent to congratulate her. She says this is a daily routine now, wading through piles of envelopes of letters.

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She says her parents' home has been swarmed with callers. Particularly on matchdays at Croke Park, the house sees countless callers - and Harrington thinks she's devised a way to capitalise on it.

What we’re going to end up having to do is turn the sitting room into a coffee shop and start selling stuff out the window! May as well capitalise on this while you can, make hay while the sun shines! Or else leave a little donations box like “support Kellie’s coffee slice foundation, throw a few Euro in!”

It is mad to think that my poor ma and da’s house is becoming a tourist attraction! People are just stopping to get a picture outside, like – it’s crazy but it’s wonderful.

The media might be a bit too much for my ma and da but the people aren’t, that’s the thing. The media can be a little bit overwhelming for them because sometimes they’re afraid of what they might say and what they might not say.

But people knocking at the door, they’d open the door all day.

Olympic gold has certainly not changed Harrington, who is still the affable, cheerful presence she has forever been in public engagements. She notes this author's shared surname instantly, and you get the sense she would stay on a Zoom call chatting away for hours if she hadn't other commitments.

Kellie Harrington Tokyo 2020 Gold Medalist and FBD Insurance Ambassador Kellie Harrington, celebrating her Gold Medal win. FBD Insurance is a principal sponsor to Team Ireland since September 2018. It is this same spirit of support and protection that sees FBD as Ireland’s largest homegrown insurer support more than 500,000 policyholders for over 50 years.

So, where next for Kellie Harrington, Olympic champion? Though she's content with relaxing and catching up with Fair City for now, the 2024 Olympics are only three years away, and a major decision on whether to go professional or not awaits her.

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Going pro or not going pro…I’ve had some offers. I don’t know what to do yet, it’s a big decision to make, so…I’d have to be sure that I’d make the right decision, not just for me but for my family and Mandy and stuff.

I have to see what I’ll do but I’ll definitely be coming to that decision sooner rather than later. I want to get back training, so it has to be made!

Harrington knows she may have inspired the next generation of Olympians, but she also knows that Irish boxing is in need of more funding if the amazing Olympic success this nation has achieved in the sport is to continue.

Regardless of where Kellie Harrington goes next, the summer of 2021 and her success at the Olympics will never be forgotten, and she's well aware of just how special her achievement was.

I just can’t believe it, I’m still seeing people who are smiling – and they’re not half-hearted smiles, they have big smiles on their faces, you can even see their teeth like! And they’re just like, “well done Kellie!” They’re genuinely happy, you know.

I think people will forget about what you’ve done, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And I think they’ll never forget how I made them feel over the duration of my journey in the Olympic Games.

All of Ireland will be on tenterhooks waiting for Kellie Harrington and you get the sense that, no matter where she goes next, she'll have no worries finding success again.

SEE ALSO: The State Of Play For Irish Olympic Sport - How Are We Fixed For Paris 2024?

Eoin Harrington

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