Kurt Walker’s memorable Olympic journey reached its end this morning after defeat at the hands of Team USA’s Duke Ragan.
The Lisburn man was denied a podium place after falling on the wrong side of a split decision in today’s featherweight quarter-final, his American opponent prevailing on three of the five judges' scorecards.
Off the back of a career-best display to eliminate top seed Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov, this bronze medal bout ultimately proved a bridge too far.
The disappointment compounded an already luckless few hours for Team Ireland, after welterweight bronze medallist Aidan Walsh was forced to withdraw from his bout.
Walsh had been due to take on Britain’s Pat McCormack for a spot in the gold medal match at 69kgs, but an ankle injury sustained in celebrating Friday’s quarter-final victory rendered him medically unfit to compete.
Alas, any aspirations compatriot Walker may have had to arrest the misfortune were snuffed out by his wily US opponent.
Ragan, notably cornered by legendary former Ireland coach Billy Walsh, claimed the first round on all scorecards, winning the battle for position in centre ring with greater ballast up close, his rapier-like bursts patently catching the eye of those at ringside.
Walker was comparatively slow to settle into his trademark rhythm in what was his maiden competitive clash with Ragan, the Irish man seeking in vain to return fire with compact hooks as his counterpart scored with crisp one-twos to head and body.
Acutely aware of the scorecard deficit, Walker palpably seized the initiative as the bell sounded for round two, getting in and out of range to score with textbook combinations, changing angles all the while to keep his opponent off beat.
By this point, Ragan - who spent much of 2020 competing in the professional ranks - was the one who seemed slightly wilted by the tempo, coming off second best in rapid exchanges.
Despite some turning of the tide, the 23-year-old Ohio native still maintained a slim advantage heading into the deciding stanza, Walker’s wounds of war from previous bouts beginning to reappear as the ringside physician again inspected a cut above his eye.
With all to play for in the final minutes, scoring shots became ever more tricky to discern, Walker increasingly smothering his work in spots as he sought snatch victory. Amidst the frenzied phonebooth warfare, Ragan was ultimately deemed to have done enough to close out the win by the narrowest of margins.
“It was a tough fight, I pushed on a little bit too late, but I’m proud of myself", Walker told RTÉ post-fight. "He just had a great first round, and that was it.
“It’s mad, I was just so close. I was trying to find my distance and so was he, he was just that bit sharper in the first and it won him the fight.
“I showed everyone back home how good I am. They only get to see us two months out of every four years. A lot more people will know my name after these Olympics.
“I’m only 26, I have another eight years of boxing left in me at least. And I’m only getting better, so we’ll see what’s next."
Walker’s stellar displays in the far east nonetheless cap what has been a tumultuous personal path to Tokyo.
His mere status as an Olympian once appeared in jeopardy after suffering elimination at March 2020’s qualifying tournament.
The postponement of last summer’s event, however, plus a recalibration of the qualification process for these refixed games, saw the former European Champion take his spot courtesy of ranking points accumulated at international level.
Despite a rib injury, and contracting Covid earlier this year, Walker belatedly nailed down his ticket.
Any concerns around those sporting vagaries were dwarved by more profound hurdles outside the ring, though, with Walker’s boxing endeavours put on hold after his daughter was born three months prematurely in May last year.
Thankfully, 15 months on, baby Layla will continue leading the Lisburn family fan club going forward.
For now, though, Kellie Harrington endures as Team Ireland’s last fighter standing in Japan. Fresh from a perfect tournament debut, the 31-year-old can follow Walsh onto the podium by beating Algeria’s Imane Khelif.
That lightweight quarter final is pegged for a 4.35am start Irish time on Tuesday.