Kellie Harrington: Lifting the nation for a few weeks ‘worth its weight in gold’

Tokyo champion admits tears kept flowing as she caught up on reaction to her Olympic success

Impossible as it is to imagine those dawning moments when being Olympic champion begin to take hold there is one that Kellie Harrington can readily share with magnificent authenticity.

It was one morning last week, back at home after 40 days and nights in Japan for the Olympics, just days after her gold medal win over world champion Beatriz Ferreira from Brazil at Tokyo's Kokugikan Arena, and the wild homecoming to Portland Row which followed: here was her dawning moment and it came in more ways than one.

Seeing people crying with tears of joy, people hugging each other who haven't got a bloody hug in the last few years...

“Because I hadn’t been sleeping proper, and then one night I had 10 and a half hours sleep,” she says. “We were up the next morning, and I just made myself a coffee and went out into the back garden, and I was looking at my phone of all the videos throughout the tournament of people back at home, reading messages, and I just couldn’t stop crying all morning.

“Not of what I have achieved, not of the medal or anything, but of how far I’ve come from that teenager, of everything I’ve gone through at different stages of my life, to get to that point, to achieving that then. Park the gold medal, but then being able to lift the nation the way that it did, to be able to bring everyone to a standstill, and seeing people crying with tears of joy, people hugging each other who haven’t got a bloody hug in the last few years. Now they’re all hugging each other and they’re singing and they’re dancing.


“That’s worth its weight in gold itself, and that hit me, when I had my first proper night’s sleep, and I’m sitting outside. Mandy [her partner] said it to me, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ And I was trying to explain it to her, and I couldn’t get it out because I was bawling my eyes out, and I couldn’t breathe. She was like ‘it’s all right’ and then she starts crying, and the two of us are sitting outside crying.

I'm just in a break, this is my moment and I am going to try and enjoy it the way I can enjoy it

“That in itself. Like the medal is great, but that . . . People will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. I feel like I made people feel something special throughout those few weeks, and especially for the final. That was really, really special for me.”

These are the quiet times of peace and reflection which come after every great sporting success, and seven days after landing back home with an Olympic gold medal around her neck Harrington is the perfect picture of it. She’s looking back on Tokyo in her role as FBD Insurance ambassador, sponsors of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, and still finds us in haste asking where she is looking to next.

“I don’t know whether I am going pro yet,” she says of that potential move, which wouldn’t necessarily rule her out of fighting in Paris 2024. “I haven’t made a decision. I’ve only stepped foot off the plane, a week ago. I have tho sit down with my club coach, my high-performance coaches, with Mandy, with my family, and we’ll discuss what am I going to do going forward.

“I’m just in a break, this is my moment and I am going to try and enjoy it the way I can enjoy it and that’s what I want to do for now.”

Harrington is, however, looking forward to one thing: her job as a cleaner in St Vincent’s Hospital, Fairview, her first shift back set for this weekend. She’ll bring some sweets and chocolates and the later pull out the karaoke machine and press Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free, and if some of this may be at odds with a recently crowned Olympic champion she more than willingly embraces it.

That's my job, I go in, I clean, I sing, I dance, I talk to the patients, and I absolutely love it

“While I am a domestic cleaner in there, and I go in and I do my job cleaning I get it done really quick, and then I like to spend time with the patients as well a lot of the time.

“They don’t have many people going into visit them so we are trying to lift their spirits and put a bit of music on, get the karaoke going and take requests often for what songs they want. We’ll have some tea and coffee and we’ll have the biscuits out, it’s about trying to put a smile on their face.

“They don’t see me as anything, they see me as Kellie Harrington, the person who’s been working there for the last 11 years. There are no airs and graces and that’s what I love about it. Now obviously when I go in this weekend it will be a bit different but that will blow over and it will settle down quick enough with them. That’s my job, I go in, I clean, I sing, I dance, I talk to the patients, and I absolutely love it.

“These are my day-oners, these are the ones who see me scrubbing toilets, scrubbing skirting boards and after that then getting up on my break and going out for a run because I need to go for a run, and then coming back, having a shower and getting ready to scrub some more.”

She's also looking forward to getting back into the ring, whether that's for a national championships next month, or a possible World Championship in Belgrade in October. The 31-year-old will soon meet with her agent David McHugh, Irish boxing high-performance manager Bernard Dunne too, only now is not the time to make any concrete plans.

I'm able to walk away and not let all of this go to my head. I'm not going to lose myself at all

“When the opportunity comes to get back into the ring, I don’t think it will be hard because that’s what I enjoy, I enjoy the build-up to getting there, I enjoy the love-hate relationship with boxing that I have before I step into the ring, the moment of ‘what am I doing here? This is my last fight, I’m never coming back again. This is my last fight, I’m telling you, I’m not joking you, I’m done after this’. I enjoy that, that’s what keeps me going.”

There is awareness too but no fear of some of the struggles which other Irish Olympic medal winners faced in recent years, particularly Kenny Egan and the late Darren Sutherland in the aftermath of Beijing 2008.

“I suppose each person on the boxing team is going to have their own struggles. I think, personally, because I’m 31, because I’ve lived a life, because I’ve had so much experience in my life, that I’m able to walk away and not let all of this go to my head. I’m not going to lose myself at all.”