Olympic disappointment driving me back to Paris despite pro draw insists Michaela Walsh

Michaela Walsh narrowly lost out to Italy's Irma Testa at Tokyo 2020 - but is determined to return to the Olympic Games in three years' time to emulate her brother Aidan's podium finish. Picture by PA

THOUGHTS of turning pro did come into Michaela Walsh’s head both before and after Tokyo – but the hurt of leaving Japan without the medal she came for is driving the west Belfast woman towards another Olympic crack in three years’ time.

Walsh was there every step of way as younger brother Aidan claimed bronze in his maiden Olympics, and being a part of his journey made it easy to park her own disappointment as focus swiftly switched.

Yet inspiration is everywhere, and while Aidan has already set the benchmark for Paris 2023, Michaela need look no further than the woman she lost to in Tokyo as she bids to come back stronger next time around.

Irma Testa, who just edged past Walsh en route to a bronze medal of her own, missed out on the podium in Rio five years previous.

The Monkstown BC feather remembers a social media post from the Italian not long after, describing how devastated she had been, but how she planned to use that hurt as a force for good – her reward eventually coming in Tokyo.

“I went out there to get a gold medal,” said the 28-year-old.

“I believed that going out, so it was very disappointing not achieving it, but I had to hold myself together because I knew Aidan had a great chance. Even in the camps leading up to it, he was on fire, so I wanted to be upbeat for him.

“At the Olympics you’re dealing in such small margins, because you’re up against the best boxers in the world. To have been part of that, I feel very blessed and grateful, but at the same time I want to be on top of them all.

“I haven’t really accepted it yet – it’s still there, and I think it still will be there until Paris. That’s my driving force.

“Irma lost in Rio and I remember she posted something about being down after but used it as fuel, and ended up winning an Olympic medal the next time. If you use it to your advantage, it can pay off.”

That’s why any notion of exploring a potential move into the paid ranks has also been put on hold for the foreseeable.

Irish team-mate Kurt Walker became Conlan Boxing’s first signing earlier this month, while former foe Skye Nicolson – who beat Walsh in the 2018 Commonwealth Games final – will compete as a pro alongside her Olympic ambitions for the next three years.

“Pro boxing is appealing to me… there’s world champions at my weight I believe I would beat right now,” she said.

“I was thinking about it, but the Olympics is something I’ve always dreamed of. I would never want to turn pro and then say ‘what if’. I’d rather give it another go and see what happens.

“For now, my eyes are just on Paris. It’s a big decision to make.”

Walsh had hoped to make her return to the ring at the World Championships, which were scheduled for next month. However, having since been postponed until next March, she is currently at a training camp in Italy with the Irish women’s team.

Already 2022 is shaping up to be a big one, with those rescheduled Worlds, the European Championships and next summer’s Commonwealth Games all on the horizon. Getting back into the swing of things wasn’t easy at the start, but now she feels ready and raring to go.

“I’m not going to lie, it was very hard. In Tokyo I was in probably the best shape I’ve ever been in in my life, then you’re doing a warm-up and you’re out of breath. It was hard getting back, and you do wonder will I ever get back to what I was?

“After coming home you’re waking up when you want, doing what you want, eating what you want. I wanted to have a bit of time to live like a normal person - get up, go about your day, do what you want. Being away from your family and friends for so long, you need that downtime because, mentally, it was tough for everyone.

“You’re so focused on that goal. They say a lot of people can get sad or down after the Olympics, so it’s important you’re around the right people because it can be lonely. I don’t work, boxing’s all I do, it’s all I know.

“I was very lucky this year, my sister just had my little niece so I’ve been busy being an aunty and really enjoying that part of my life now. It’s a good distraction away from boxing.

“I was disappointed when the Worlds were called off because I took my time getting back to build up slowly, and I feel like I’m in a great place now.

“After an Olympics, getting back into a routine was really important, then you’re back in training with the team in Dublin. I’m somebody who gets fit very quickly anyway so, where the first few weeks was a nightmare and I felt like a novice, you do find your way.

“Paris is less than three years away, and not medalling in Tokyo has meant the fire is still in me because I still believe I have the ability to go there and win an Olympic medal.”

Michael Marlow (Holy Trinity) and Archie Ritchie (All Saints) after their entertaining Antrim Open semi-final. Ritchie won on points. Picture by Mark Marlow

Holy Trinity’s Logan Rice, Conal Burns and Cormac Fegan celebrate with club-mates Cormac Curley, James Kelly, Jonny Doherty and Carlo Braniff at the Antrim Open championships, which were held in Brook Leisure Centre. Picture by Mark Marlow

Coady Peoples (Star of the Sea) and Oak Leaf’s Brandon O’Hagan go toe-to-toe during their excellent 71kg contest, which O’Hagan went on to win. Picture Mark Marlow

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