KELLIE Harrington and Brendan Irvine will follow in the footsteps of some of Ireland’s legendary boxers when they carry the Irish flag in the athlete’s parade at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Friday at noon (BST).
Even though Ireland failed to win a boxing medal for the first time since 2004 at the Rio Games, the sport is still Ireland’s most successful Olympic discipline with 15 boxers taking home 16 medals since 1952. All the other athletes combined have won 15.
This pre-eminence of the sport is reflected in the fact that this will be the eighth time and the third Olympics in a row that an Irish boxer has had the honour of carrying the flag.
This time the atmosphere will be very different in Tokyo compared to previous opening ceremonies which attracted sell-out attendances. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Friday’s ceremony will be held virtually behind closed doors with the exception of some VIPs.
This year, all participating nations were asked to nominate a male and female athlete to carry the flag as part of the IOC’s gender balance policy.
The other Irish fighters who have carried the Irish flag at opening ceremonies were Matt Flanagan (1928), Tony ‘Socks’ Byrne (1956), Jim McCourt (1968), Wayne McCullough (1988), Francie Barrett (1996), Katie Taylor (2012) and Paddy Barnes (2016).
Five of them won Olympic medals, though curiously not always at the Games where they carried the flag. Byrne (bronze) and Taylor (gold) did win at the Games in which they carried the tricolour whereas McCourt won his bronze medal in 1964, McCullough won silver in 1992 while Barnes won bronze medals in Beijing and London.
Belfast ace Irvine, who captains the seven-strong Irish team, is competing in his second Olympics while Harrington is the No.1 seed in the lightweight category in her debut Games.
Harrington said: “This means so much to me, to be able to represent not only myself as a person, but as a boxer, for boxing, for my family and for Ireland. It’s an amazing honour, there are so many athletes out here, and to be chosen as one of the flag-bearers is absolutely fantastic.
“Walking out there and realising I’m the flag-bearer, it’s the start of the Olympic Games, and I’m at the pinnacle of our sport.”
Her team-mate Irvine is competing in the flyweight category (-49kg). Harrington described their pride.
“I’ve known Brendy a long time now, and he is a fantastic person,” he said. “He is what you call a leader; he leads the team. I’m so happy that it’s him out there with me. I just know we will be looking at each other and smiling.
“We will be feeling so proud, and I know his family and friends and community are quite like mine and everyone will be so proud of our achievements. I’m absolutely delighted.”
• A Ugandan athlete who fled during pre-Olympics training in western Japan last week has been found and is being interviewed by police, officials said.
Mie prefectural police in central Japan said 20-year-old weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko was in the Yokkaichi city, 105 miles east of his host town.
Police are asking him what happened since he fled his hotel in Izumisano in the Osaka prefecture last Friday, leaving behind a note saying he did not want to return to his country.
He did not meet Olympic standards in the latest international rankings released after he arrived Japan and was to return home this week.