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Harrington and Irish scourge Potkonen to square off for gold in potential Olympic precursor

The Finn holds two victories over former world champion Harrington since she eliminated Katie Taylor from Rio 2016.

Kellie Harrington and Mira Potkonen.
Kellie Harrington and Mira Potkonen.
Image: Soenar Chamid/INPHO

FORMER WORLD CHAMPION Kellie Harrington will once more meet rival-slash-role model Mira Potkonen in the final of the Strandja Multi-Nations tournament in Sofia on Saturday.

Harrington beat Bulgarian home favourite Denicia Eliseeva on Friday to guarantee silver at lightweight (60kg), while Roscommon’s European-champion middleweight Aoife O’Rourke bowed out with bronze following defeat to America’s Naomi Graham.

The 30-year-old Harrington returned to action in Bulgaria this week following an injury-blighted 2019, during the latter half of which Harrington missed out on the European Championships, the World Championships and November’s Irish Elites.

Harrington required surgery after damaging her right thumb just before she was set to meet old foe Potkonen for gold at the European Games in Minsk last June.

Her return to the ring in Bulgaria this week has been her first competitive action since. Potkonen, meanwhile, added European Championships gold and World bronze to her walkover Euro Games gold in Harrington’s absence.

Saturday’s meeting in Sofia will ostensibly be a clash between the world’s top two lightweight operators, and might well reoccur for higher stakes in Tokyo this summer provided both women qualify over the coming months.

The 39-year-old Finn, described as an inspiration and role model by Harrington in an interview with The42 last year, has twice beaten the 2018 world champion in major competitions — the 2017 EU Championships and the 2018 European Championships. While their first encounter saw Harrington tire and Potkonen win comfortably (albeit only on a split decision), Harrington felt she got a lot closer the second time around.

“She’s not technically great, but she’s basic, and what she does works. And she’s a nice person, and it’s just great to see someone like her… For me, she’s a role model, and I love fighting her,” the Irish great said last year.

“The first time I fought her, the first round I was winning easily, and then halfway through the second round I just died. And it was survival mode then. And she won the fight, like.

“Second time I fought her, I thought I’d done enough to get the decision. And I think she was quite shocked, as well, because I went forward a little bit more.

Third time… We’ll see how it goes. But it’s always an exciting fight — it’s a fight that I get up for. It’s like, ‘Oh, God, like! What’s going to happen today?’ It’s one of them fights. I enjoy it.

They’ll meet for that long-awaited third time on Saturday, when Potkonen will aim to continue her remarkable streak against Irish opposition. Since 2016, she has eliminated Katie Taylor from the Olympics, eliminated Harrington from two major tournaments, eliminated Amy Broadhurst from two major tournaments, and she also beat Broadhurst in Sofia earlier this week on her way to the final.

While there was success for Harrington in her semi-final on Friday, Aoife O’Rourke — the reigning European champion at middleweight (75kg) and only other Irish boxer left in the Multi-Nations — bowed out at the semi-final stage and will take bronze home from Bulgaria.

The Castlerea woman is the only Irishwoman not named Katie Taylor ever to win European Championship gold, and is in her own right a medal prospect for Tokyo.

‘I didn’t start boxing to win an Olympic medal… Every day I’m here is a day I’m winning at life’

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