Kellie Harrington: 'I know what it is to fail. This is why I am who I am'

It is loss and error that makes an Olympic medallist more than any victories deposited to the memory bank.
Kellie Harrington: 'I know what it is to fail. This is why I am who I am'

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: Kellie Anne Harrington (red) of Team Ireland celebrates victory over Sudaporn Seesondee of Team Thailand during the Women's Light (57-60kg) semi final on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Kokugikan Arena on August 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

It may seem odd to zero in on failure at this, the most successful moment in Kellie Harrington’s career, but it is loss and error that makes an Olympic medallist more than any victories deposited to the memory bank.

Elite athletes have said as much time and again. Michael Jordan has always insisted that he has failed far more than he has succeeded. Many of these household names have commanded monstrous appearance fees to spread this gospel in the commercial marketplace.

When Harrington defeated Algeria’s Imane Khelif in her lightweight quarter-final here earlier this week, a bout which guaranteed her a step on the podium, she spoke about how every medal was payback to her parents for her mistakes growing up.

But mistakes were made in the ring too. Kellie Harrington did not arrive into a boxing ring moulded in the shape of an Olympic finalist. She was raw and blissfully ignorant of what was needed to reach the top. Like every sportsperson that ever lived.

Getting from there to here, in Tokyo, where she will face Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira on Sunday morning for the right to be called Olympic champion, took talent, luck and a willingness to go to a place that few recognise and even less would go.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “Olympic silver medallist. That’s the stuff that people dream about. Many tried to get there, many don’t have what it takes to succeed because they don’t have the willpower, the determination, the focus, the dedication. I eat, sleep and breathe boxing.

“I’ve had heartbreak. I know what it is to fail and I know how hard it is to pick yourself back up after that. This is why I am who I am, and why I am here today, because I’m not afraid of failure. I know what it is. I’m Kellie Harrington. I’m myself and I make my own pathway.” 

She has spoken repeatedly here about this whole Olympic experience being a journey and the destination is now known. It will end at the Ryoguku Kokucigan just after lunchtime Tokyo time with a medal ceremony and an Irish flag raised to the roof.

The only particulars in need of arranging are whether the Tricolour will be front and centre and whether Amhrann na bhFiann will echo around the magnificent walls here that are decorated with the heroes of sumo wrestling’s long and proud past.

Seven Irish boxers have made it to this elevated stage, starting with John McNally at the Töölö Sports Hall in Helsinki in 1952, but only Michael Carruth and Katie Taylor have managed that last leap and into the realm of Olympic champion.

Harrington’s brother put it so well when saying this morning that the last mile is never crowded but Ferreira, a fiercely aggressive and talented fighter, will ensure that space is at a premium on the canvas this coming weekend.

That won’t be new for Harrington.

Her victory over Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand here this morning was a triumph of inches, the judges leaning her way on a 3-2 split decision that might have been different had one of them blinked and missed a punch here or a swing there.

“Close fight. I knew it was going to be a chess match. I fought her in 2018 in the World final. It was tricky then, it was a chest match then, and it was a chest match today. She didn’t want to give anything, I didn’t want to give anything, but eventually someone had to.

“It was patience that was key,” said Harrington. “I kept my patience and she didn’t. And that’s what won me the fight. The coaches were in the corner telling me, ‘stay patient’ and giving me tactics to throw and it worked.” 

Another three days to go. Another nine minutes to stick to the plan.

This is where all that failure pays off.

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