Before a sensational 15 minutes for Irish boxing last Thursday, Ireland could boast three World Championships gold medallists.
Katie Taylor, who banked no fewer than five, Kellie Harrington, who also won world silver, and Michael Conlan were the only boxers to top the podium in an Irish team tracksuit.
All three are now household names due to Olympic success, Taylor winning gold in London 2012, Conlan claimed bronze at the same Games, and Harrington is a Tokyo podium topper.
Despite the fact Taylor’s world success came before and after her Olympic triumph and Conlan’s medal came before him working his way to the top of the World Championships podium, people naturally make a Worlds and Olympic medal link and have lauded our most recent gold medal winners, Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke, as real hopes for Paris.
It’s an understandable assumption to make. They have proved themselves the best in the world at their weight, so medalling at the 2024 Olympics should be a possibility and a target – if not an expectation.
However, it’s not that simple. In fact, it’s quite complex and the starlets’s celebrated success comes with a headache not brought on by celebratory champagne for the High Performance team.
First off, the weights both champions competed at – 63kg [light welter] in the case of Broadhurst and 70kg [light middle] for O’Rourke – are not Olympic classes.
Moving either into weight categories that will be competed at in the next Olympics isn’t the simplest of options and, to add to the complexity of the scenario, it looks as if a decision on what way is best to move forward has to be made before the year is out.
The new qualification system, which we outlined and dug into HERE, lends itself to having a #1 at each weight for the cycle. There are fewer back door routes for bolters to exploit and qualification seems very unlikely unless you hold that status.
Across four distinct phases, two of which are a points-based series of multi-nations (‘The Golden Belt Series’), one being the 2023 Women’s World Championships, and then a final chance qualifying tournament.
With the Golden Belt Series starting early in 2023, Ireland will need to have their Olympic hopes identified by then to maximise their chances of making it to the French capital.
The weight category issue – and the offering of Olympic qualification slots via non-Olympic weights – further muddies things.
In Broadhurst’s case, she will have to target the Olympics at either 60kg [lightweight] or 66kgs [welterweight] and will have to make that choice very soon. Staying at light welter and accumulating points there would qualify Broadhurst at welterweight, a division which would perhaps be a jump too far for the Muirhevnamore woman.
Standing very much in the way at lightweight is a certain Kellie Harrington, the reigning Olympic champion (who did not compete at the recent World Championships due to an injury picked up in training camp).
Would Broadhurst be afforded the chance to challenge the best lightweight in the world for the #1 spot in Ireland and thus be sent to the qualifying tournament? Is this something Broadhurst wants? If she were to challenge Harrington and lose out would she still be sent on the qualification trail at 63kg – a free shot, essentially – or would light welter preference then be given to someone else? These are all questions swirling, not to mention Broadhurst’s dual eligibility for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
It could lead to possibly the biggest ever National Elite Championship final in November. If both Harrington and Broadhurst were to weigh in at 60kg it would be the biggest Irish amateur fight of all time.
It’s a fight that would instantly return Senior Finals night to its former place of prominence in the Irish sporting calendar and would be a brilliant advertisement for the sport and how far women’s boxing has come in Ireland.
Irish-Boxing Prediction: Broadhurst moves down to 60kg, wins gold at the Commonwealth Games this Summer, and then goes in direct competition with Harrington to be Ireland’s lightweight representative at the qualifiers next year. This may be through assessments and/or an actual fight(s) viewable to the wider public.
Lisa O’Rourke’s situation is similarly unclear.
Just turned 20 and having weighed in at the Worlds pretty much bang on the 70kg limit, it’s hard to envision her moving down to the 66kg Olympic division. Meanwhile, at 75kg, her European champion and Olympian sister Aoife rules the roost.
It’s pretty clear that Lisa won’t be moving up to middleweight to fight her sister but, whether they like it or not, there is competition between the pair.
Both will probably go on the qualification trail at 70kg and 75kg but two into one does not go. Both are Olympic-quality boxers and, with increased spots available for women at these Games, attaining the qualification standard seems more likely than not.
However, after each of the four stages, National Governing Bodies will have to confirm whether they are availing of the Olympic qualification spots secured by the boxers. Names will be locked in – early. This is unlike previous Games with multiple qualification routes.
The Golden Belt series starts early next year and runs throughout 2023 but the first spots will be decided after the 2023 World Championships. If the scenario from the last Worlds repeats itself (Lisa reaches the final, Aoife is eliminated beforehand), Ireland and the younger O’Rourke would be offered an Olympic spot. But would they take it?
A bird in the hand is often said to be better than two in the bush but, when qualification is so achievable and Aoife is the fully-fledged middleweight, will the IABA look to give the elder sister every chance to qualify for Paris? Even if it means turning down qualification for Lisa?
Irish-Boxing Prediction: Both O’Rourkes go on the qualification trail and the first one to achieve the qualification standard will be ratified. If both achieve the standard in the same qualification phase, Aoife will be chosen over Lisa.