Walshes make it a family affair as they book their spots in Tokyo Olympics
Belfast siblings Michaela and Aidan bring Irish boxing qualifiers to five
Michaela Walsh celebrates her win over Sweden’s Stephanie Thour as the Ireland corner looks during the European Boxing Road To Tokyo Qualifier at Le Grand Dome, Villebon-sur-Yvette in Paris. Photograph: Dave Winter/Inpho
Belfast sister and brother Michaela and Aidan Walsh have qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It is the first time that Irish siblings have qualified since women were first introduced to Olympic boxing at London 2012, where Katie Taylor also made a first with her gold medal win.
It is an exceptional and very rare achievement. Waterford siblings Jessie and Thomas Barr qualified for the Olympics in athletics but they attended different years, Jessie in an Irish relay team and 400m hurdles in London 2012 and Thomas in the 400m hurdles in Rio 2016. In 1980 brothers Dick and Pat Hooper both ran for Ireland in the Olympic marathon in Moscow.
Other countries have had successful sibling Olympic pairings with the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, in tennis, and the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny, in triathlon.
The Belfast pair beat Sweden’s Stephanie Thour and Ukraine’s Yevhenii Barabanov, Michaela boxing well within herself from the back foot and posting a unanimous decision over Thour in the featherweight division.
In the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Walsh took the silver medal on a split decision after being beaten by Nicola Adams, who went on to win Olympic gold in London. In 2018 Walsh moved to featherweight and again won Commonwealth silver.
From the Monkstown Boxing Club in Belfast’s Newtownabbey, Michaela was too slick for Thour in the quarter-finals of the restarted contest, earning Olympic status with all five judges agreeing on the winner in a 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 decision.
Brother Aidan, who also boxes with the Belfast club, had an altogether tougher ride in his welterweight bout against the number four seed. In a cagey first round Walsh landed some clean counter-punch back hands, enough for all five judges to award him the round.
That prompted the Ukrainian to come at Walsh more aggressively and as the fight went on the more desperate he became. But the Irishman held on, sometimes literally to Barabanov and might have been on the verge of receiving a deduction.
But in the end, he did enough with his earlier good work to earn a split decision and a place on the Tokyo-bound plane with his sister.
Kellie Harrington is also finally going to the Olympic Games. The 2018 world lightweight champion received confirmation from all the judges in her qualifier quarter-final against Maiva Hamadouche on Saturday evening.
The 31-year-old Harrington unanimously impressed all five judges against the professional boxer winning 29-26, 29-28, 29-27, 29-28, 29-28 in what was a promising weekend for Irish boxing.
Aoife O’Rourke also made it through on Saturday night when the 23-year-old showed incredible maturity to come from behind in a punishing and physical contest, to eventually defeat the number four seed Elzbieta Wojik of Poland.
O’Rourke, a middleweight gold medallist in the 2019 European Championships, brings the number of boxers who have qualified to five: O’Rourke, Harrington, the Walsh siblings and Brendan Irvine, the only Irish fighter to have made Tokyo last year before the tournament staged in London was abandoned because of covid-19.