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'I know that the target is on my back but I do just see myself as a contender'

Kellie Harrington is ready to take on the world again after a few weeks in which she won Strandja gold, sang on the Late Late, and married her partner Mandy.

Kellie Harrington en route to her Olympic final last year.
Kellie Harrington en route to her Olympic final last year.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

KELLIE HARRINGTON HAS made her fair share of lifetime memories over the course of the last 12 months, but last Friday will be tough to top.

“The day was bloody amazing,” says the Olympic champion of her wedding with longtime partner, Mandy Loughlin. “We had the best day ever. We got great weather and we had close friends and family there. Yeah, it couldn’t have went any better.

“…Apart from that, I’m keeping it private!” Harrington smiles, although she does offer one further detail: the dogs were on their best behaviour.

“Ah, d’you know what? They were brilliant. Didn’t they look great? They were absolutely great. The three of them: it wouldn’t be a special occasion if we didn’t have them with us. They’re part of the family.”

Publicly, there were tears of happiness only six weeks prior as Harrington took to the stage to receive her gold medal at the prestigious Strandja Tournament in Bulgaria.

In what was her return to competitive action seven months after her Tokyo success, Harrington picked up where she left off. The 32-year-old Dubliner ruled once more at 60kg in a tournament at which — while it isn’t considered ‘major’ in the vain of the Olympics, the Worlds or the Europeans — it can actually be more difficult to medal because only boxing’s top-rated countries are invited to compete, meaning there are virtually no favourable draws.

In any case, if you saw only a photograph of an emotional Harrington in its aftermath, you could have been mistaken for believing it had been snapped the previous summer in Japan.

Explaining why her Strandja gold felt so significant, Harrington says: “Well, I suppose, like, I’ve been there before — twice — and I fell short twice. This year, it was nearly like a mini World Championships, y’know? Like, there was really tough competition in it. It was tough, like. I was boxing world-class girls.

“I think I boxed three new opponents… Or did I? I can’t remember, actually. Something like that, anyway!” she laughs. (For the record, she is also correct).

I’m always emotional, anyway, when I win and when I lose. You just don’t get to see the tears [when I lose] because the media is not really around when you lose. Know what I mean? They’re only all over you when you win. But I’m emotional either way. Whether I win or whether I lose, I’m always emotional.

Kellie and Mandy’s honeymoon is on the backburner because next month, it’s the World Championships for real.

Harrington, who has already won silver and gold at the Worlds in 2016 and 2018 respectively, missed the 2019 edition through injury but will travel to Istanbul under unprecedented spotlight having ruled at lightweight in amateur boxing’s last two significant international meets.

kellie-harrington-celebrates-with-her-gold-medal The woman to beat at 60kg at next month's Worlds. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This year’s tournament will be unseeded, meaning her perceived no.1 status counts for little in the draw; she could conceivably meet her Olympic-final opponent Beatriz Ferreira early on, for example.

She’s not exactly losing any sleep over it, mind.

I know I am the woman to beat. I know that the target is on my back. But I do just see myself as a contender. I know that sounds a little crazy but that’s what I do see myself as: a contender. I also see these World Championships — they are a World Championships, they are massive; but it’s preparation for next year when the qualification system starts [for the 2023 Paris Olympics]. I’m not really sure how that’s happening — but this is just preparation. What will happen will happen, what will be will be, and I’m going out there to make weight and hopefully get a few fights under my belt and just see how it goes. It’s about preparation, to see where I’m at, and then hopefully after the World Championships, I’ve left enough room to be able to take it up a few levels next year.

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“I’m not afraid of losing and that’s not saying I want to lose — because I really don’t want to lose. But I’m not afraid of it because I know what a loss is like. I think it’s in a loss that you’re able to grow and if I am going to lose any fights, I hope it’s before the qualifiers next year where I can grow from it and get ready for the qualifiers.”

spar-community-road-trip-launch-with-kellie-harrington Spar and Kellie Harrington are inviting community groups nationwide to apply for €10,000 in funding and a chance to spend time with Harrington as she tours Ireland on the Spar Community Road Trip. Visit www.spar.ie for more details. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

That’s an insight into an Olympic champion’s mindset, but little did we know that when Harrington endeared herself further to the Irish public by belting out a rendition of ‘Grace’ on RTÉ’s Late Late Show last month, we were being treated to an even more revealing example of an elite athlete’s psychological preparation.

Well, kind of…

“I still haven’t had a phonecall or an email from Louis Walsh so I dunno, like…” Harrington laughs. “I enjoy singing. I’m not the best singer in the world, but… I always find — and I know this is really strange, right? — but if you can get up and sing in front of a crowd or a roomful of people that you know, because it’s a really, really hard thing to do, then it’ll help you when you’re going into the ring…

“I know that’s really a mad way to be looking at it, like, but I just always think that if I can do that in front of those people, then I can walk to the ring and not be as nervous.

Y’know, some people, if you were to put them up at karaoke, they’d be, ‘I’m not getting up, I’m not getting up, oh Jesus’. They’d be absolutely in a bundle in the corner and you’re trying to drag them up, like. Sometimes you can feel like that when you’re getting into the ring: ‘Oh Jesus Christ, here I go again,’ d’you know, kind of thing. So, I just kind of think — I know it’s really crazy, like, but I am really crazy after all! – if you can get up and sing even in front of a room of people that you’d know, then, like, you’re able to do anything really, aren’t ya?

Kellie Harrington was speaking at the launch of Spar Community Road Trip. SPAR and Harrington are inviting all community groups nationwide to apply for €10,000 in funding and a chance to spend time with the Olympic champion as she tours Ireland on the road trip. Applications will open on Wednesday 20 April and will remain open for a period of four weeks until Friday 20 May. To find out more, visit www.spar.ie.

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