“I would cut my medal in half and give her half of it,” said a beaming Aidan Walsh of his sister Michaela this morning, as he put on a fantastic quarter-final display to secure at least a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
A patient and composed Walsh guaranteed the first Irish boxing medal of the Games with a 4-1 win over Merven Clair from Mauritius in the Kokugikan Arena.
It brings to three the number of medals Ireland have won in the first week of competition, two in rowing and now the Belfast welterweight, who won his quarter-final largely in the first two rounds of the bout.
With sister and fellow Olympic boxer, Michaela, cheering him on from the stands, Walsh powered through the opening round, and came back strong in the third after Clair pushed him all the way in the second round, to take the win.
The 24-year-old, boxing in his first Olympics, raced to a smart start and for the first three minutes was by far the better boxer. The judges thought so too with all five awarding the Monkstown BC fighter the first round 10-9.
Walsh kept that tempo into the second round and although southpaw Clair came more into the bout with scoring shots, it was the Irishman who impressed most of the judges. It was a narrow second round but three of the five judges saw it in favour of Walsh, giving him the critical 2-0 lead he was looking for.
It was then desperation mode for the Mauritian, but it was Walsh who stepped up in the final stanza, with just one judge giving Clair the round. Walsh took the fight 29-28, 28-29, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 and moves on to the semi-final where he meets Britain’s Pat McCormack for the prize of an Olympic final.
“It’s incredible, it’s amazing, it’s something that I dreamed of since I was no age,” said Walsh.
“The same as Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Hugh Russell, I was talking to Hugh Russell before I came out here and it’s amazing now that I’m in the same situation that he was in. Obviously I want to go further. It’s really, really good.”
Walsh follows a long successful tradition by becoming the ninth Belfast boxer to win a medal at the Olympic Games.
“I’m getting shivers here just thinking about it.”
Speaking of his sister’s support from the stands, he added: “Her voice cuts through the noise! You’d hear her everywhere in Belfast! It’s the same when we’re sparring in Dublin the coaches have to shush her.
“Ah it’s great, me and her are best friends. I would actually cut the medal in half and give her half of it, that’s how much she means. I’m disappointed for her that she didn’t come out here and create history together, that would have meant a lot to me but it’s just boxing, and we’ll come again for the next Olympics and try and create more history.”
Me and my brother Aidan have trained together and grown together our whole lives. When me and him qualified for the Olympic Games on the same day, it was the most special day of my life, but watching him win an Olympic medal brings a joy to me I’ve never felt. That’s my baby bro!
— Michaela Walsh (@michaelaw57) July 30, 2021
The Irishman was also spoken to in the last round by the referee. But he stuck to the style that has proven so effective.
“He told me to fight. I’ve been getting that my whole life so I have, people saying ‘fight, fight, fight, hurry up and move’,” said Walsh.
“I’ve always had that style of moving. I’m just now implementing more stuff while I’m moving that the coaches are showing me and I’m learning more and more styles and techniques and tactics while on the move whereas before I used to just move and not really do as much.
“Now I’m growing as a fighter, I’m not just going on the move, I’m going backwards and going forwards and it’s great.”
Walsh now faces into an Olympic semi-final where he will meet a familiar foe in number one seed, Pat McCormack, of Great Britain.
Martine Walsh, mother of Aidan and Michaela, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that she was “so, so proud and over the moon” at her son’s performance.
When asked how she felt during his boxing match earlier today, she said: “Oh my god, I was so, so nervous. You think that they’re winning, but you don’t know with the judges.”
The excited mother told of how she got to speak briefly with both her son and daughter following his win. “He’s on cloud nine and ready to go to the next one”
Aidan told her that his medal would be for him and for Michaela, she said.
“He has worked so hard. He is constantly training, he never stopped. He trains three times a day every day of the week. All the hard work has paid off.”
Ms Walsh said she would be nervous on Sunday when he has his next fight. “I’ll be backing him all the way.” The family has watched all his fights from her brother’s house and will continue that tradition.
Aidan’s sparring partner at the Monkstown Boxing Club, Daryl Clarke added that no one deserved a medal win more than Aidan Walsh. Everyone at the club was very proud of him “what a phenomenal achievement.”
“He is such a natural.”
The boxer was “hard to hit” and one always learned something from him. Clarke joked that he could now say that he had fought an Olympic medallist. – Additional reporting: Vivienne Clarke