Not only is Paddy Barnes’s Olympic journey at an end but so is his career as a light-flyweight boxer.
He has fought for the last time in the Games and the last time in the weight division.
One is connected with the other. Barnes blamed his shock defeat yesterday in his first bout of the 49kg category at his third Olympic Games on the draining effect on his body of a desperate struggle to keep within the limit for the lightest of the Olympic divisions.
Barnes has always fought at light-fly but he has never been a natural 49kg human being. It is constantly punishing himself with hard work and strict diets as he would if he was a jockey.
Unfortunately, there was no steed to carry him through yesterday’s trial.
His body finally called time yesterday in Rio.
There was nothing left in the tank.
He struggled in the first round and by the third and last he was running on air.
Why Barnes had not moved to a heavier division that would have been more natural for him was not explained but he admitted last night that he has been struggling for a while to make the weight.
His natural weight is 58kg, more suited to the division of bantam or even lightweight.
He revealed that during the 14-week long World Series of Boxing last year, where he had to make the weight every fortnight, his franchise had been fined because he failed to do it on one occasion.
That Series qualified him for Rio but probably was the final straw for the wee man’s over-worked frame.
He had not fought a competitive bout at the weight for 16 months and it showed. Barnes, given a bye through the first round as the fourth seed, lost the first round to the Spaniard Samuel Heredia on two judges’ card, shaved the second round 2-1 and was level at 19-19 going into the third.
But Barnes knew already that the fight was beyond him.
“I felt good when I got into the ring today but at the end of the first round my energy was completely gone,” said the Belfast man who won Olympic bronze medals in Beijing and London.
“I am absolutely devastated. I believed when I came here that I could come away with the gold medal but it’s just as well I got beaten because I would have been embarrassed next week.
“The next fight I would have got hammered again because I have no energy. I shouldn’t be fighting at the weight. It’s so hard getting down to it. In the first round, I was dead. I was gone. In the second I had nothing left.
“It’s always been hard making the weight but this time, there were questions in my mind and I was doubting (if I could make the weight). I don’t know how I made it.”
Coach John Conlan said: “Eventually it (weight) does take a toll. He made the weight bang on 49 this morning, he was hitting hard in the warm-up with the pads and it’s just a little bit too much for him.
“I’m gutted for him and his family.”
Even so, Barnes’s final Olympic effort was a close affair, a split decision with the two judges going against him giving it to the Spaniard only by a single point.
“It’s just devastating, he’s probably been our most successful boxer. This is his third Olympics and I personally felt he was getting a gold medal,” said coach Conlan, father of Michael, the number one seed in the bantamweights.
“I know how hard he’s worked because I’ve been basically living with him for the last two years and seen what he’s put himself through.
“But it’s never a shoe-in. I watched five fights of this Spaniard this morning, five tapes of this guy, and I knew what he was bringing to the table.
“I watched him closely in the last few qualifying competitions and he was hard done against an English guy so I knew what to expect.”
What would have been Barnes’ next fight is against Yurberjen Martinez, a Columbian whirly-gig who threw enough punches at Phillipino number five seed Rogen Ladon to get a unanimous decision but showed little sign of having any effective defence.
In former times he would have suited the Belfast machine down to the canvas.
Barnes will look back on his final Olympics – “I am not going to Tokyo” – for the honour of carrying Ireland’s flag in the Opening Ceremony last Friday and of captaining the team.
He will not look back on it with the same fondness of memory that he will take from his earlier Olympic adventures.
The Irish in action today
Our three-day eventing team of Jonty Evans, Padraig McCarthy, Clare Abbott, and Mark Kyle hope to be vying for medals in their final discipline (showjumping, from 2pm).
Sanita Puspure is fancied to get through her single sculls quarter-final (1pm).
The ‘Green Machine’ hockey team face the ultimate test in their group, reigning Olympic champions Germany at 4:30pm.
Mayo swimmer Nicholas Quinn competes in heat 2 of his favourite event (200m breaststroke) at 5pm.
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