Kellie Harrington just wants a cup of tea and a scone

‘Everyone is saying, ‘Ah, you’ve a great community. Your community is fantastic.’ Sure I’m saying that forever, like!’

Kellie Harrington holds her Olympic gold medal after emerging from Dublin Airport.
Kellie Harrington holds her Olympic gold medal after emerging from Dublin Airport.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A COUPLE OF snoozes on the 14-hour plane ride home from Tokyo made for the first sleep Kellie Harrington has gotten since Sunday, when she became Olympic champion.

Her head is “ready to explode”, she tells journalists on an online press conference shortly after strolling through Arrivals at Dublin Airport, where staff and army officials formed a guard of honour for the Dubliner and Belfast’s bronze medalist Aidan Walsh.

“And I feel quite…quite emotionless right now — probably because I’m tired, or… I dunno, I’ve never experienced this before,” Harrington smiles, trying to make sense of the last three days.

“When I came back from the World Championships (Harrington won gold in 2018), there was people there; it was all my family and friends. Today when I came through, it was only a couple of family and friends there because of Covid restrictions. The media is everywhere, they’re all pulling out of ya left, right and centre. And that just feels weird for me, like. I’m not used to that.”

kellie-harrington-speaks-to-the-media Harrington speaking to the media at a press conference upon her arrival back in Dublin. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The aftermath to her 60kg Olympic-final victory over Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira was similarly strange. It was four hours after the final bell before Harrington got a chance to speak to anyone from home: she doesn’t bring her phone to fights so she instead borrowed IABA High Performance director Bernard Dunne’s to ring her beloved partner, Mandy Loughlin, with whom she spoke for 10 minutes. In the interim, there were anti-doping duties and an official press conference to tend to, followed by another TV interview with RTÉ as her country at home continued to revel in her crowning moment. Harrington didn’t get back to her room until around 9pm local time, she reckons — some five hours after she and Ferreira first exchanged leather.

“This (the airport) is my first time speaking to my Ma and Da, I think, because I haven’t been ringing people or anything like that. Because I’m just so exhausted.

“It hasn’t hit me. I’m just like, ‘What are all these people…what do they want from me?’” Harrington laughs.

It just feels like a normal competition and I suppose that’s just the way I treat every competition — but it’s not, like; it’s actually an Olympic Games. I can’t really believe it to be quite honest with you. I think for me to realise what’s actually going on, it’ll take me a couple of weeks to not be around the team, to not be in that environment; to actually realise what has happened, what I’ve achieved.

kellie-harrington-is-greeted-by-anna-moore-after-returning-to-dublin-with-her-gold-medal Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Harrington acknowledges, however, that it might start to hit home when she hits home herself: an open-top bus tour this evening through her north-inner-city community, which is decked out in tricoloured bunting and will be dotted with familiar faces among thousands more, is bound to accelerate her digestion of what she has done.

“I haven’t shed a tear since I came home because I’m feeling very, very exhausted. So I just think that when I go into town and I see all those familiar faces who know me from growing up, who know my story; and I’m going to see how happy they are for me, how happy they are for my community…

–And you know, everyone is saying, ‘Ah, you’ve a great community. Your community is fantastic.’ Sure I’m saying that forever, like! Y’know what I mean? I’ve been saying that for years. They mustn’t have been listening to me when I was saying it. But I’m glad now that they’re finally getting to see that my community is absolutely smashing: that’s in the good times, in the bad times. They’re always there for each other, they get behind their own. I love them and I do think when I see them, I’m probably going to end up bawling my eyes out.

(Updated at 17:25: so it proved).

“I’m not a fame-hogger or anything like that,” Harrington continues. “What is fame? I’m all about humility. You know, you can be famous and be a bit of a…you-know-what. My people are the people from my community and that’s what means the most to me.

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“There has been people who have reached out to me. I haven’t replied to anyone because I don’t know where to start, like. I haven’t posted anything on social media — again, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to start with any of it. It’s kind of been overwhelming.

People are saying, ‘Oh, the way you spoke…you really spoke well.’ And I’m just like… I’m just being me, I’m just speaking the way I’d speak to anybody. What you see is what you get. If you like it, you like it and if you don’t, that’s your problem.

kellie-harrington-with-michael-conlan Michael Conlan, whose father John is one of Ireland's boxing coaches, speaking with Harrington at Dublin Airport. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As for what happens next in her boxing career — be it a go off Paris 2024, a move to the pros, or indeed neither — Harrington states firmly: “I don’t know yet. That’s the answer to that question. I have no idea.”

In any case, her plans for the more immediate future, when the dust finally settles on the insanity of these few days, feel far more important for now.

“As boring as it sounds, I just want to put me feet up on me chair. I just want to sit down on me sofa, watch some telly — or not watch telly; listen to the radio. I actually like just sitting down and chilling out and listening to the radio and drinking tea, or having a coffee, or having scones or cakes — something that I can actually eat now,” she smiles.

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