Harrison conned us and himself all along, and now it’s over

John Inverdale
SO farewell then Audley Harrison. That glorious golden moment on the final day of the Sydney Olympics not so much a fading dream as a figment of our imagination.

His first round humiliation against David Price on Saturday night was the final chapter in a riches to rags story that has left most of us who love the sport feeling more than a little bit cheated, as well as sad.

There remains, even allowing for its current lamentable state, a magic and a majesty about world heavyweight boxing. The names from the past send a tingle down the spine. Dempsey. Louis. Marciano. Ali. Frazier. Tyson. Add your favourite. We’re always looking for the next giant of the fight game.

And believe it or not at the start of this century, that next giant was going to be Audley. Four years after the medal drought at the Atlanta Olympics, perhaps a combination of the goldrush in Sydney and a bit too much of the amber nectar, impaired our judgement, but many of us believed it.

He had the gold medal, he had the physique and he had the talk. Boy did he have the talk. He certainly talked the BBC into returning to boxing after many years out of the ring, but then as every passing contest became less of a fight and more of a fandango, he gave the corporation the perfect excuse to throw in the towel at the hokum that was being passed off as heavyweight boxing, and the sport is still suffering from that decision now.

That opening rapturous one-round foray into the professional ranks at a throbbing Wembley – prime time on BBC1 – against a punchbag called Mike Middleton, had descended less than three years later into a chorus of derision from a far from full house at the Fountain Leisure Centre in Brentford as his opponent Rob Calloway hung around for five rounds until his jaw got broken. By that stage it was almost more painful watching Audley than it was fighting him. It was hard in his post-fight interview – as the bluster about conquering the world continued unabated – not to just say ‘come off it. Who are you kidding?’

From the outset, Audley had never trusted the promoters who pulled the strings, so he went it alone, doing everything himself. The money came in, but his management team (ie Audley) either wouldn’t or couldn’t realise how different the worlds of amateur and professional boxing were. He was a celebrity before he was a champion (a cautionary tale for those that follow in his Olympic footsteps) and in the end, that’s all he was, reduced to appearing on Strictly Come Dancing last year. The comebacks have come and gone, but the final bell surely tolled on Saturday – his career bookended by two one round non-events.

But it is sad. Because Audley did have charm. In abundance. And swagger. And for a while, genuine star quality. But he was just conning us, as he continued to con himself right to the end.