Life as an Olympic boxer: torture, money worries, darkness … and a dream of glory

Irish boxer Paddy Barnes lost his first 15 fights but, after winning bronze medals at the Olympics in Beijing and London, he is going for gold in Rio – and aiming to become the first Irish athlete to win medals at three successive Games

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Irish Olympic boxer Paddy Barnes will have billions of eyes on him on Friday. The 29-year-old has been given the honour of carrying the Irish flag into the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on his third and probably last Olympic Games. As Barnes prepared for the Games, making his lonely train journeys from his home in Belfast to his training camp in Dublin, he pictured the cheering crowds, flash photography and billion TV viewers, as those images helped to brighten painful sessions for the little man with the incessant fighting heart.

Barnes fights at light-flyweight, meaning he has to compete at a maximum of 48 kilograms. Outside of the competition, his normal weight is 58kg, while he is in training and eating healthily. Lacing up a pair of boxing gloves and fighting in a ring is often the easy part for a man who grimaces when he describes the horrors his body goes through to shed the excess 10kg. “It’s just not pleasant, I would go so far as saying at times it’s torture. You survive on the wits of sports scientists and dieticians and the plan they give you. When it comes nearer to the day of the weight, I genuinely can’t speak, I could walk past my best friend and not say a word. I’m not me then. As it gets closer to the fight, I just lie there in the dark. I’m not in a good way. The team know to leave me alone during those times.”

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