Rio Olympics

Paddy Barnes ready for proudest moment of glittering career in Rio

Paddy Barnes (left) will carry the Irish flag into the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro tonight. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

CARRYING the Irish flag into Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium tonight will top anything Paddy Barnes has achieved during a memorable career that has taken him to three Olympic Games.

However, the Holy Family fighter believes that will be surpassed within three short weeks – when he walks out at the closing ceremony with a gold medal around his neck.

Ever the competitor, Barnes openly admits he was slightly miffed to be overlooked for flag-bearer duties at London 2012. Katie Taylor carried the tricolour into the Olympic Stadium four years ago, and ended up on top of the podium.

Barnes hopes that is a good omen this time around as he bids to land that elusive gold medal, having secured bronze at Beijing 2008 and in London.

"It's as important to me as winning a medal - for me it's a great, great honour,” said the 29-year-old, who has suggested in the past that he could compete at two more Olympic Games.

“I was delighted to be asked, and it’s going to be a very proud moment.”

Outside of his role in tonight’s opening ceremony, it has been business as usual for Barnes and the other seven members of the Irish team as they were at a training camp in Rio’s naval school for 10 days before moving to the Olympic village last Friday.

Aside from having to relocate to a hotel after a fraught first, and only, night at the naval school where there was no hot water and sirens blaring in the early hours, the camp – alongside host nation Brazil and former Irish coach Billy Walsh’s Team USA – has gone well.

Barnes’s diet and weight management has been closely monitored by the boffins back at Ulster University’s Jordanstown base, and he insists he has made the 49 kilogram light-flyweight limit easier this time than in the past.

With the physical side taken care of, it’s the mental part of the game where the north Belfast man feels he has changed dramatically.

“I’ve just a different mindset on the Games,” he said.

“Going to Beijing, I was taking part, it was a different experience, whereas now I’m the best in the world at my weight – I’m going there to win gold, not just to take part.”

Considering he has only boxed twice competitively since his final bout in the World Series of Boxing in April 2015, Barnes is unlikely to be handed a bye, meaning he would be thrust into action at the preliminary stage tomorrow.

If that is the case, he won’t be hanging around at the Maracana tonight.

“It’s a long day for everybody else but I’d just be leading the team out and that’s it.”

Whether it’s tomorrow or the next day, it doesn’t matter – as an Olympic veteran, he just wants to get between the ropes now and start what he hopes will be a journey towards the promised land.

Barnes added: “This bit’s hell, fighting’s the easy bit. I just can’t wait to get started.

“People always talk about pressure – the only way you’d feel pressure is if you’re worrying about pleasing everybody else. I’m a selfish person, I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

“Any pressure on me, it’s put on by myself. Sport – not just boxing – is cut throat. You’re either a winner or a loser and you need to be selfish to get that win.

“At the end of the day if I feel happy doing what I’m doing, that’s all I care about.

There probably will be ring rust, but even a below par Paddy Barnes can still take gold.

“I take every fight the same – I could be fighting in the Antrim senior championships and I’d still have the same nerves as fighting in an Olympic final. You’re just zoned in, it’s you and your opponent and that’s it.”

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Rio Olympics