With Kellie Harrington's towering sense of achievement in becoming the second Irish woman after Katie Taylor to win an Olympic boxing medal came an acute sense of relief.
Pre-Games expectations were that Harrington would add another podium place to that of the lightweight rowers, the women's coxless four and welterweight boxer, Aidan Walsh. Still, the 31-year-old was bubbling with emotion in Tokyo's Kokugikan Arena.
“I know I give off the impression that I’m hard,” said Harrington. “I am a hard faced B. I am very emotional deep down inside. Times like this make me cry. That wasn’t my best today but again, it’s very hard when you’re up against a tricky opponent to get the best out of you. So yeah, medals are medals. If I hadn’t gotten one I’d have been very upset.”
The management of boxing bronze medals is something in which the Irish coaches have become expert over the years and Harrington, although pleased with the morning’s work of securing her first, was playing the part with muted celebration and reminding everyone in the mixed zone she was still on the journey and not at the destination.
There is another silver medal bout to win against Thailand's Sudaporn Seesondee on Thursday. But her unanimous decision win over Algerian Imane Khelfi put to one side an awkward fighter and a bout that could very easily have been more troublesome than it was with Khelfi's reach and superior height.
Harrington took some comfort in the fact that Khelfi’s long levers and rangy style did not come with a laser guidance system. She missed more often than she hit. Afterwards Harrington’s mood was one of deliverance.
“It’s the relief after fighting that girl to be honest because I knew she was very awkward, very, very tall, very rangy,” said Harrington. “I thought she had a lot more to offer but I saw her shots coming and I was able to back out of the way.”
On her way out of the ring the Irish lightweight, always one for reaching back home to her work and family and where she came from, turned and spoke to a television camera.
“I was thanking everybody for the support back at home and all around the world and family and friends,” she said. “I’ve gone all off social media so I can’t get back to anybody. I’d say I’m getting whacked out of it with messages but I’m not replying because I’m not on it.
“Again, it’s just thanks for all the support and to the people in St Vincent’s Hospital. I know they’re still in bed at the moment but they’ll find out when they wake up and they’ll be happy.”
Following her World Championship win in 2018 and more recently the form she brought to Le Grand Dome in Paris to win the European qualifying event for Tokyo, Harrington has been on everyone's radar.
She has already faced and beaten the experienced Seesondee, when they met in the Indira Ghandi Sports Complex in New Delhi in 2018, but Khelfi was a tricky new opponent and from the bell she tried to score off Harrington from a distance with the long jab at work.
But Harrington was patient and for extended periods the two circled the ring, Harrington looking for openings to score and Khelfi content to fight from a distance and stick her tongue out in an effort to distract.
The longer the fight went on the more Harrington found the gaps in the Algerian’s game. One judge favoured Khelfi in the first round with four going with Harrington. But by the end of the second round all five judges were with the Irish woman, who led 2-0 going into the final third.
Harrington’s better accuracy and variation caught the eye and as she landed the cleaner blows the bout inevitably titled in her direction. Winning the final round 10-9 on all the cards she closed the match 30-27, 29-28, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 for the unanimous decision.
“I knew she was going to be long and awkward. To be honest with you it wasn’t a spectacular fight,” said Harrington. “It wasn’t anything to write home about. I knew what I had to do to win and that’s a champion’s mindset where they do what they have to do to be able to get the rounds and scrape by.
“Very, very awkward opponent. Sticking her tongue out at me in there. I enjoyed it because when somebody starts doing that you know you have got into their head and you know that they are going to start throwing shots and missing and she did.
“I don’t know when the next fight is but I think it’ll be quite soon because there’s six days left and I am counting down the days until I’m home.
“The next fight will be a quick turnaround, and there’s nothing like . . . I mean, I can’t do anything to stay sane because I’m definitely not sane. Anybody in this sport I think needs to be a little bit insane.”
The guaranteed bronze for Harrington brings to 17 medals Irish boxers have won since John McNally was beaten into silver in the 1952 final in Helsinki.
Four boxing medals were won in Melbourne in 1956 by Fred Tiedt, Tony Byrne, John Caldwell and Freddie Gilroy with the brightest haul at London 2012 where Katie Taylor won gold with John Joe Nevin, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes also making the podium.