23 September 2008 – by Cormac Campbell
It is now 28 years since Hugh Little Red Russell cemented his legacy in the annals of Irish boxing.
Winning bronze at the Moscow Olympic Games of 1980, the North Belfast native had set himself on a course for not one but two careers. It all started when a young Russell made the decision to follow his brother Sean in to Gerry Storeys Holy Family Gym.
My brother Sean boxed for Ireland and he was two years older than me, he told irish-boxing.com.
Dad didnt box but he played football. My uncles Johnny and Jimmy boxed. So I sort of fell in to it. I was probably very fortunate as regards where I lived. Gerrys gym was very close to our house. Then he ended up being National coach when I went to the Olympics. So I was just extremely fortunate to have such good coaching from a young age.
Russells first taste of the big time came in 1978 when he won bronze whilst representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada. But in the eyes of the general public and indeed an ambitious young boxer it is the Olympics that matter most and two years later Russell saw his hard work put off when he won bronze for Ireland in the heart of the Soviet Union.
Unbeknownst to him at the time was that as a result of Communist policy he would not be allowed to take local currency, in addition to the more valuable metal already in his pocket, home with him.
So rather than see good money go to waste Russell went shopping, picking up his first camera in a local shop.
On his return home as a hero, Russell embarked on a career as a professional boxer. And having won two British titles at two weights his decision to enter the paid ranks certainly proved worthwhile. But all the while he was snapping away, honing his skills as a photographer.
His fighting days long behind him, Russell now makes his living as a shutterbug for the Irish News ironically a newspaper that is more than generous in terms of boxing coverage.
Following the successes of Darren Sutherland, Ken Egan and fellow Holy Family starlet Paddy Barnes, Russell cant help but reminise on his own experience.
I dont think anybody actually realises how big a thing the Olympics is when they are taking part in it, he said.
It is only now that I can realise how much of an honour it is to do the Olympics and to win a medal. Its 28 years since I fought in the Olympics and I still get mentions of it everyday in life. I turned pro and won two British titles and won the Lonsdale belt outright and I still get letters sent to me from all around the world but it is always to do with the Olympics. People want autographs from Olympians. So there is a magic that captures everybodys imagination.
Aged just 20 at the time of his Olympic adventure, Russell acknowledges that the worlds premier festival of sport can change someones life in weeks.
What it is like getting on the plane you are getting on the plane with superstars. I remember getting on the plane with Eamonn Coghlan. Now Eamonn was the biggest thing that I had ever seen in sport. He is also probably the most unlucky man alive. Fourth place in the Olympic Games its the loneliest place to finish. I remember coming home on the plane and he asked me if he could see my medal.
Here was my superstar and he was asking to see something I had that he didnt get. And it was only then that I started to realise how big a feat it was. Whether Barnes, Egan and Sutherland are aware of the magnitude of their achievements remains to be seen, but Russell is delighted to invite them into the winners circle.
They are now part of a very small club. A couple of handfuls of us in it, so they are very lucky. I think when you have been there, you are very proud of anyone who makes it there. You have the three boys who picked up medals. It is always going to be a very special part of their lives.