Boxing

The Kellie Harrington Story Is About More Than The Olympic Gold Medal

The Kellie Harrington Story Is About More Than The Olympic Gold Medal

This is not the story of a childhood dream fulfilled. The event did not even exist when Kellie Harrington was a child. A windy road took her to Tokyo, but it was never the destination. Today is not just about an Olympic medal.

It is about where the journey started and what carried her throughout. There has been upheaval with clubs, funding and the weight category. More than once she considered quitting the sport due to a lack of opportunities. Her parents or local boxing coaches persuaded her otherwise.

Much has changed but there has been one constant; pride of place. Kellie Harrington hails from the north inner city and they hail her as a hero. It is a reciprocal relationship. As much as she gives to the area, they give to her.

When Harrington won lightweight gold at the 2018 World Championship, Seán McDermott Street played host to a heartwarming homecoming. Dublin footballers, politicians and locals lined up to celebrate. Children chanting with giddy excitement in a perfect illustration of the admiration for Harrington within the neighbourhood. The feeling was mutual.

"This is my area, these are the people I grew up with, you have all seen me starting from the bottom, and how I fought my way up to the top,” Harrington roared to the crowd from the stage. “You are the people who know what I went through to get this."

A year later, when one of her neighbours lost their home to a fire, the Irish boxer auctioned her 2015 National Elite belt and an Irish vest to help raise funds. Her involvement in various charities is well publicised. These are causes close to her heart; homelessness, rape crisis centres, cancer services after a friend's child fell ill.

The desire to help the community unfolded inside her sport as well.

Advertisement

At the 2019 Irish Senior Championship finals, Harrington was the figure media wanted to hear from. Yet when approached by the national broadcaster, she insisted St Mary’s BC club-mate George Bates join her for the interview.

Bates is an immensely talented boxer in his own right who also had Tokyo ambitions. The exposure and heightened profile would really help. Fast forward 12 months. Harrington is an ambassador for the 20x20 Women in sport campaign. As part of that, she took over their social media for a day.

What did she decide to do with it? Interview George Bates.

Advertisement
8 March 2018; Kellie Harrington, George Bates and Aoife Burke, of St Mary's Boxing Club, Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

At the time, the lightweight was one qualifier away from making the games and actively looking for sponsorship. Harrington asked him about the rise of female boxers and how they far in the gym, before pointedly asking about Bates' preparations.

"You are not on any funding. How are you managing working, training full-time for the Olympic games and as well as that having a new baby?"

Using her profile as a platform to help others. Bates subsequently fell agonisingly short of making it to Tokyo, losing out on a split decision against Javid Chalabiyev in Paris last June.

The concoction that led to Olympic triumph consists of more than the community factor. They all intertwined together succinctly in 2016. In charting this success, that year projects as the pivotal chapter.

Boxing was always a hobby, never the primary focus. Several forces collided in Kazakhstan at the World Championships. The explosion launched Harrington on a new trajectory.

Advertisement

For the first time, she was all in. Every meal was mapped out and prepped beforehand. Competing at 64kg meant certain luxuries. Making weight was never an issue and Harrington could eat freely. However, the food they were provided during trips abroad was always mundane. This time, she saved and amassed a kitty to eat daily in local steakhouses.

No box went unticked. The dust in Astana was particularly bad, so for every venture outdoors she pulled a jumper over her face. The prospect of embarrassment was no match for the fear of impediments. Any slight threat of a cough or chest infection accounted for.

All the sacrifice paid off when she took silver. With that came a rare bout of publicity. Harrington was conscious that most of the media present were not there for her. Katie Taylor was the main attraction and won a bronze medal.

Kellie Harrington Story 28 May 2016; Team Ireland's medal winners Kellie Harrington, and Katie Taylor with coach Zaur Antia. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

In fact, much of the coverage irked the Dubliner. The idea that she emerged suddenly from the woodwork to win silverware was inaccurate and insulting. Seven national titles should have been enough to cement her credentials.

Advertisement

Nevertheless, this was the first real dose of fame. She saw the joy it brought to her friends and family. It finally proved the trump card in her fight for funding. All the sacrifices had paid off.

While there were advantages at 64kg, there was also a big drawback. This was not an Olympic weight. Katie Taylor sat comfortably at 60kg and while Harrington did win her first national title at 69kg, her size and frame were more suited to a move down.

Bidding her time proved a shrewd choice. Looking back on that class in Khazistan, it was something everyone in that category had to contemplate. The gold medallist was Yang Wenlu of China. She too opted for 60kg but did not qualify for Tokyo. Australian Skye Nicolson was a bronze medallist then and competed at featherweight (57kg) in 2021. She went out in the last 32. Canadian Sara Kali headed north to 69kg and is not at these games.

Also in 2016, Harrington worked as a pundit during the Olympics. In the studio, she was insightful and, when called for, critical. Outside of it, she was shocked at some of what she read and what was said to her.

"It was hard because we didn't get what we were expecting. But getting lashed out of it by the general public, that isn't right. Everyone wants to know you when you are on top. As soon as you are down and out, this and that. If you are going to support someone, support them to the end. Not a part-time supporter.

"That is the hard part. People don't realise the sacrifice. They think it's a hobby. A lot of people don't see behind the scenes and what your life is like. You are basically like a nun. Eat, sleep and breath boxing," Harrington told the Fair Game podcast in 2017.

The national bandwagon is a tradition and to be welcomed. But this is particularly special for the people of Portland Row and their constant support. Present every step of the way. Now they can rejoice at the result.

Kellie Harrington, their champion.

 

SEE ALSO: Kellie Harrington Wins Olympic GOLD After Magnificent Performance

Maurice Brosnan

You may also like