Kellie Harrington’s Olympic focus: ‘The tunnel is there and there’s also light beyond that tunnel’

‘There’s no bad blood or bad feelings towards Amy’ Harrington says of Broadhurst’s switch to Team GB

When Kellie Harrington walks into the room and straight away starts rolling with the questions as she would any punches, it’s clear nothing is about to ruffle her unnecessarily so. Nothing off the record either.

How she dealt with her first defeat in over three years, how she’s planning to defend her Olympic lightweight boxing title in Paris, and at age 34 the ever-pressing sacrifices that come with it.

“It becomes more focused and selfish, as in I won’t have any time to give to anyone, really”, she says of that Paris countdown. “I’ll be ‘eat, sleep, breathing’ boxing for the next 11 weeks. Not that I don’t do that already, but it will be really, really focused now.

“The diet will be more focused. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to have treats or anything. It just means I won’t be waking up and having bars of chocolate for breakfast.”


And she touches too on any thoughts already about her retirement after Paris, come what may.

“The tunnel is there and there’s also light beyond that tunnel. I’m looking forward to retiring and having normality in my life, being able to do the things that normal people do. Because what we do is not normal, like. It’s very not normal. If you were a fly on the wall at some of the tournaments, you’d be like, ‘Oh my God! It really isn’t normal, is it?’”

All of which is Harrington being Harrington, coming across as a perfectly normal, not taking herself too seriously and not letting being an Olympic champion change her in any way.

It’s a little later when the question turns to the elephant in the room: her reaction to Amy Broadhurst switching allegiance to Britain in the hope of qualifying for Paris. There is a momentary pause before Harrington breaks into a laugh.

“I was wondering what elephant you were talking about there”, she says, then continues as if she saw it coming, as instinctively as she would any punch.

It just over two weeks now since Broadhurst was selected to fight for Britain in the final Olympic World qualifier in Bangkok later this month, after the 27-year-old from Dundalk was overlooked by the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) for the last two qualifying tournaments – putting her on a potential clash with Harrington in Paris as she looks to defend that lightweight title.

“To be honest I didn’t really have a reaction,” Harrington says. “People saying ‘ah, you might face each other’ and so on. Look, I don’t know how many women boxers are in my weight, I’m going to say 22, because that’s an average number that’s always in the weight categories.

“But if I was to think of just one person, that would be absolutely crazy. There are so many really, really good girls out there. Like, the draw has to be done. She has to qualify, which I think she will do, and you never overlook anybody. But the way I look at it is, I train now for different type of styles, then the draw gets done, and you go from there, one day at a time.”

Broadhurst won World, European and Commonwealth titles in 2022, the latter for Northern Ireland, and is eligible to fight for Britain via her father Tony, who is English. For Harrington, who turns 35 in December and has already declared Paris will be her last international tournament, there are some complications in that Broadhurst’s coach and partner Eoin Pluck is part of the IABA high-performance coaching team.

Before her decision to switch allegiance, Broadhurst said “her lifelong dream has been to become an Olympian. I have spilt blood, sweat and tears over 22 years in the boxing ring in pursuit of that childhood goal.”

Harrington says she hadn’t spoken to Broadhurst on the issue beforehand, but that she wasn’t surprised, nor is there any “bad blood” between her former sparring partner.

“Ah, yeah, I’d be good friends with Amy, like. There’s no bad blood or bad feelings towards Amy. She was a team-mate. We don’t really have bad blood in Team Ireland ... And beyond.”

Smiling, she adds: “I suppose he [Pluck] won’t be involved with me. Which is a shame because he’s a great coach. But, I mean, you can’t have that. So, he just won’t be coaching me.”

When Harrington lost her lightweight semi-final at the European Elite Championships in Belgrade at the end of April (in a split decision to Natalia Shadrina from Serbia), it was her first defeat in over three years, and after 32 successive wins.

Harrington recovered perfectly well from that in ample time for the delayed Tokyo Games five months later: “I lost and I lost fair and square, no doubt about it. When I got out of the ring I was so frustrated. I paced the corridor up and down thinking what happened. Sometimes you want to blame somebody, but you can’t. It’s you in there throwing the punches and dodging them.

I don’t know anybody else who trains harder than boxers. We do absolutely everything, we get punched in the face, we lift weights and we run

“The next day when I looked back. I didn’t look like myself and I didn’t feel like myself either. I hope it has put a bit of a fire under my arse to get me going again. You don’t really learn anything from a win. I don’t watch many of my fights back that I won, I’ve probably seen the Olympic final twice and some clips other times. Other fights maybe once and maybe never, but losses you will watch back and take parts out of them.”

Speaking in Dublin in her role as a Spar ambassador for the Stay in the Game campaign, which encourages young women to develop a lifetime engagement with sport, Harrington is clearly switching into full Olympic preparation mode. The focus is entirely on Paris; normal life will be whatever comes after that.

“I’m boxing for 20 years, the success has been over a short number of years. With Mandy [her wife], we talk about when I am finished boxing, that I’ll be able to do normal things and that I don’t have to be worrying about weight and worrying about how much energy I’m wasting while walking or going out to a concert or anything, like.

“And I don’t know anybody else who trains harder than boxers. We do absolutely everything, we get punched in the face, we lift weights and we run. When I’m in the ring, I run like f**k. It’s a gruelling sport.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics