Tokyo 2020: Kellie Harrington sticks to game plan to continue ‘amazing journey’

Dubliner edges tactical semi to become second Irish woman to reach an Olympic boxing final

Patience, keep your distance, don't be drawn into a brawl. These might seem like quaint instructions to give a boxer in an Olympic semi-final. But, not for the first time in her career, Kellie Harrington used brain not brawn to give herself a shot at becoming champion.

Restraint, poise, self-control, moderation and calmness played their part against Thailand's Sudaporn Seesondee in Tokyo's Kokugikan Arena as Harrington eked out a split decision win. She joins Katie Taylor as the only Irish woman to contest an Olympic boxing final.

Harrington can join a more exclusive Irish club if she can beat Brazil's Beatriz Ferreira in Sunday's final. Only track and field's Pat O'Callaghan, Bob Tisdall, Ronnie Delany, boxer Michael Carruth, rowers Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, swimmer Michelle Smith and Katie Taylor have become Olympic gold medal winners.

“It’s just mad like. If I’d asked me Ma and Da six years ago do you think I could box in Tokyo in an Olympic final, I don’t know what they would have said?” said Harrington.

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“This is just an amazing journey and I’m just glad to be here with the coaches and have my club coach back at home. I know Noel [Burke] is absolutely buzzing and I’d say he’s smiling ear to ear. Do you know what, as hard as Noel is I actually reckon even Noel shed a tear now.”

Harrington arrived to the arena as she has always done this week with coaches John Conlan and Zaur Antia marching behind, Her hair in a net, her shoulders twitching and her game face staring directly ahead, a study of uncluttered concentration.

It took just about all of that focus to earn a majority decision against the boxer she beat in the 2018 World Championship final and in Ferreira, her final opponent, she meets the 2019 World champion.

The final is unlikely to be as tactically themed with Ferreira a come-forward fighter to the stand-off style of Seesondee. It was so stand-off at the beginning that the referee had to step in twice in the first round to ask the two to fight.

The choreography of the bout didn’t change over the three rounds, although Seesondee picked it up in the third and turned three of the judges. That came as Harrington, boxing from a distance and countering when Seesondee lunged, had won the first two rounds.

The first round was a split decision with three judges going with Harrington and two with the 29-year-old Thai boxer.

Strict instruction

There was more aggression in the second round but Harrington was under strict instruction to play her canny game of scoring points from out of range.

While three of the judges went with Seesondee in the third, Harrington crucially won over two of them to earn the split decision. Where it did not pay off for Kurt Walker, who went out on a split decision to American Duke Ragan, Harrington, with patience and discipline, had made her case more robustly.

“Put it this way, right, I have been in Japan I think for 35 days now,” said Harrington. “I’ve been sitting in my room and people think you’re having a great time out here in Japan. I’ve been sitting in my room in our training camp and then in the village, looking at the four walls, to the food hall, maybe a five-minute walk back to my room. Then a little session with my coaches.

“That’s the way life is and that’s what dedication is and then that transfers into the ring. It’s patience to be able to do that for 35 days so I can do that for nine minutes in there.

“You know what, with age you get more patient. And I’m 31 now, so my patience is getting better.”

While Harrington was speaking, Ferreira was making short work of Mira Potkonen, the most famous boxer in Finland. Potkonen, now 40-years-old beat Katie Taylor in Rio to win the bronze medal.

It was the only medal for Finland at the 2016 Olympics in any sport, and the first medal in boxing for the country at an Olympic Games since the Barcelona Games in 1992.

“I don’t know much about her. I’ll find out a bit about her tonight. I know her, like, but I wouldn’t follow her,” said Harrington.

“I wouldn’t really follow anybody in my weight. I focus on me and what I am good at and try and control what I can do, otherwise I might as well pack it in and leave it all behind.

“Like I said in any fight, it will be what it will be, as long as I get out of there knowing that I have given everything. Then I’m happy.”

Harrington was the 2018 World champion and Ferreira won the following year, with the Brazilian coming through against Potkonen by winning every round on all five judges’ scorecards.

Harrington may not know much of the detail of her final opponent but her coaches will.

“Yeah, I know,” said Zaur. “We know about her. We know she’s a good fighter too. But we have confidence as well. Confidence is everything in these fights. It will be a different fight than today, of course.”