Emmet Brennan’s Olympic journey

Whatever the outcome, Emmet Brennan is proud of the path that took him from inner-city Dublin to the Tokyo Olympics.

‘’If you were to ask the average person that was involved in boxing in 2019 or 2020 ‘will Emmet Brennan become an Olympian,’ 99% of people would’ve said no. I sort of lived the underdog story.’’

Image source: @Emmetbrennan via @Instagram

During his early teenage years, Emmet Brennan began to long for Olympic glory. His gym, St Saviour’s Olympic Boxing Academy in Dublin’s north inner city, was also home to the late Darren Sutherland, who Emmet says inspired him to take up his Olympic journey. 

“It was always my dream, the second I walked into the boxing club I was surrounded by elite champions, the likes of Darren Sutherland, who went on to become an Olympian. I was obsessed with that lifestyle that he was living,” Brennan says.

Unlike many Irish boxers, Brennan never aspired for any sort out success outside of the Olympic games and was not content with winning amateur world or Irish titles.  

“We had assessment to go to the world championships in 2019 and they weren’t an Olympic qualifier. I wasn’t really bothered when I didn’t get picked.”

In 2016, after some time away from the sport, Brennan left his apprenticeship and dedicate his life to becoming an Olympian. He trained every day, gave up partying, and even took out a credit union loan to support himself.  

Brennan qualified for the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, but he was not able to celebrate with his family because of Coronavirus restrictions. This loneliness, along with his focus to win more at the Olympics, made it hard for Brennan to celebrate his achievement. 

“My family were probably happier and more emotional at the time than I was because winning is a strange feeling. You do everything in the world to win, but once you win and you get there, you just want more.”

A shoulder injury he picked up during the qualifiers, along with his need for more success, made it hard for Brennan to enjoy the Olympic experience that he had always dreamt of. 

“If I’m frankly honest, it wasn’t a great experience because I was injured coming into the Olympics. I was stressed because you’re coming up to the biggest competition of your life and you know you’re not going to be at your very very best.”

This injury also badly affected his performance at the games, and he lost by unanimous decision in the first round to Uzbeki fighter Dilshodbek Ruzmetov.  

After the fight, Brennan gave an emotional interview to RTE, where he couldn’t hide his disappointment. He had worked his entire life to achieve something and, in his eyes, fell short. 

At the time, Brennan was 30 years of age, and it was unlikely that he would get another opportunity to win an Olympic medal. In his mind, his life’s work was over in the space of nine minutes, which impacted his mental health. 

“When you have this big goal in front of you, your whole life comes into order. Nutrition, hydration, your sleep, your training, your personal life, your family life, everything is revolved around this one big goal and then all of that is gone. It’s a very strange and hard situation to be in.”

Over two years on from the games, Brennan views his experience in a much more positive light. He is proud of his achievements and focuses on the joy he got from his Olympic journey instead of the final result. 

“Look I got to the Olympic Games, I got to experience something that less than 1% of the world will get to experience. You’ve got to be grateful for the opportunity and grateful to be an Olympian.

“I went on a journey with a lot of my friends and a lot of people that I trained with for five or six years. I got to see a good friend of mine become an Olympic champion and another friend become an Olympic bronze medallist. I got to see another six people realise their dreams of becoming an Olympian like myself. I got to live out my dreams with teammates that became friends.”

Despite coming home without a medal, Brennan says that he doesn’t regret anything from his Olympic experiences, and he hopes that people will take inspiration from his journey to Tokyo. Nowadays, he’s fighting as a professional.

“I have no regrets from the Olympic experience, but I do have regrets in boxing and in life that I didn’t live the life I’m living now a lot earlier.

“What I want people to learn from my story is anything possible once you put your mind to it.”

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