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Walker denied medal following quarter-final loss as Walsh withdraws from Olympic semi-final

Duke Ragan, of the United States, right, punches Ireland's Kurt Walker during their men's featherweight 57-kg boxing match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, on Sunday               Picture: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
BY ANTHONY GUNNING

IT was an agonising Sunday morning for Ireland's boxers as Kurt Walker came oh-so-close to a medal in a razor-thin defeat to Duke Ragan in the featherweight quarter-final, while an ankle injury to Aidan Walsh kept him from taking on Pat McCormack in the welterweight semi-final.

Lisburn's Walker was edged out on the narrowest of 3-2 split decisions (29-28 x3, 28-29 x 2) to secure bronze and a semi-final berth as his recovery from a slow start just fell just short.

The pre-fight narrative was dominated by USA coach Billy Walsh plotting the downfall of an Irish fighter in a major tournament for the first time since making the switch in 2015, but the Wexford man was made to sweat as Walker roared into the fight after a below-par opening round.

Having defeated number one seed Mirazizbek Mitzakhalilov in the last 16, the Lisburn man entered the bout with high hopes, but didn't get the start he needed despite a fine recovery that saw him come within a whisker of completing the comeback.

"It's tough; it was a great fight but I pushed on too late, but I'm proud of myself," the Canal ABC man told RTE after.

"I won two rounds out of three but he had a great first round and that was it. It was so close. I beat the world champion (Mitzakhalilov in the last 16) despite being how inactive I was."

The hand speed of Ragan was apparent from the off and the American landed with flashy combinations to sweep the opening frame.

Walker looked a little tentative and ended the round with a previous cut over the right eye re-opening, but responded well in the second as boxed beautifully to get into his stride and seemingly redressed the balance, yet just three of the five judges agreed.

The third saw the pair throw everything at it and it was a little untidy with both holding their feet and trading. It almost resembled a pro fight with the American tying Walker up in what developed into a brawl.

The Irishman seemed to do enough, but despite it being closer than the second, four of the five gave him the nod, yet the dissenting card proved to be crucial as Ragan edged it on the cards.

"I knew he was going to wait for me (to attack) and I knew I was going to push on, but I just did it a bit too late - that's the way it is," he reflected.

"I tried to find my distance and so was he, but he was just a bit sharper in the first.

"I showed people at home who only watch this once every four years (amateur boxing) how good I am and I think people will know my name after these Olympics. I'm only 26, so I've another eight years of boxing in me so we'll see (if stays for Paris 2024)."

Meanwhile, Aidan Walsh was unable to contest his welterweight semi-final against Pat McCormack as an ankle injury sustained when leaping in celebration after his quarter-final victory against Merven Clair left the Belfast man unable to box.

The Monkstown ABC man had hoped the injury would have subsided enough by Sunday morning to allow him to compete for a place in the final, but it wasn't to be and the decision was made to withdraw.

While disappointed, the 24-year-old will reflect on an incredible Olympics as he returns home with bronze and his name in the history books.

“What Aidan did this week is an incredible achievement,” Team Ireland Team Leader for Boxing, Bernard Dunne, said

"His performance throughout the tournament has been outstanding. And it is great to see him write his name in the annals of Irish sport.

"Just over two years ago we selected Aidan for his first major championship, and over the past few months that potential that we had identified has grown and developed into a world class performance, that reflects greatly on the level of preparation he has put in ahead of these Games.”

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