Billy Walsh never wanted to leave the Irish boxing programme. When he did, it made a day like yesterday inevitable but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach when he played a part in denying Kurt Walker an Olympic medal.
It was Walsh, now head coach with the USA, who brought Walker into the Irish high-performance system when the fighter was still only 17. And it was Walsh in the American corner when Duke Ragan won their featherweight bout and guaranteed himself an Olympic medal.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said the coach from Wexford but now based at the USA’s elite facility in Colorado Springs.
“In 2012 we brought Kurt into the Irish programme for this day and I was part of preventing him achieve that. Kurt has been the standout in this division at the Olympics, his coaches are the best in the world. They were my colleagues for 12 years.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.”
Ragan won by split decision in their quarter-final bout but his presence, as a professional boxer, doesn’t sit well with everyone at these Games. Among them is Bernard Dunne, the Irish boxing team’s high-performance director.
“I don’t agree with professionals fighting in the Olympic Games,” he admitted, “but that’s not my decision to make.”
First allowed to compete in Rio five years ago, about 15% of those in the ring in Tokyo are men and women with experience of the pro ranks.
Many of those with pro bouts on their CVs have exited early but Ragan has spoken about how much he benefited from his paid bouts and his defeat of Walker in an exceptional bout over the weekend has now left him fighting to upgrade a guaranteed bronze.
“You know what, it was a great fight,” said Dunne.
“It could have went either way and I personally thought we performed exceptionally in the second and third round. It was a great fight. I wish him well. Billy is there so we want to see them go on and succeed now.”