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addiction battle Boxing legend Kenneth Egan says winning Olympic medal sent him on downward spiral

The 39-year-old explains his world came undone when he claimed silver at the 2008 Olympics


Kenneth Egan is now working as a psychotherapist.

Kenneth Egan is now working as a psychotherapist.

Kenneth Egan is now working as a psychotherapist.

Kenneth Egan pulls no punches when he speaks of his now well-documented battle with addiction. Nor does duck from detailing his turbulent fall from fame.

In a searingly honest interview, the 39-year-old powerhouse explains how his world came undone when he claimed silver at Beijing's 2008 Olympics.

A seminal moment in his life, the family man became an instant poster boy for Olympic fame, but it was a victory that almost cost him his identity.

He says: "After I got sober I struggled with the whole identity of, well, if I am not the Olympian anymore, then who am I? That was very tough. I made the decision to go back to college and reinvent myself."

So who exactly is Kenneth Egan now?

"I'm just Kenneth Egan," he says simply. "A psychotherapist working in my local village that I love. There are no airs and graces about me. I walk through the village and say hello to people. I know myself when I am walking down the road some people might say, 'He's only a b****x'. I am OK with that. I'm not everyone's cup of tea - and that's OK.

"Before, when I walked down the street, if someone looked at me strangely I would say, 'Did I piss him off? Did I do something?' Today I know I am not causing any havoc; I am living a genuine authentic life. I don't have to worry about other people's judgements."

Joining RTÉ's coverage of Tokyo 2020, which continues until August 8, the addiction counsellor is among a host of former Olympians and expert pundits including Sonia O'Sullivan, Derval O'Rourke, Rob Heffernan and Grainne Murphy who will follow Ireland's bid for gold.

"It's brilliant to be on the panel, winning the Olympics was my goal for 18 years," he says as he reflects on the near two decades that brought him to his career peak.

"I failed [to qualify for Athens] in 2004 and I was devastated. I was going to retire but then I came back and tried again."

As down-to-earth as ever, there's no diminishing the fan fare that greeted the athlete after claiming silver four years later.

"I've walked through Dublin airport on hundreds of occasions with a medal around my neck from different competitions, and there was probably one journalist there with a pen and paper to write down a couple of lines about how the competition went. This was a different animal," tells Kenny, as he's probably better known.

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"It was unheard of - a working-class lad representing Neilstown Boxing Club coming home with the silver medal. It was a brilliant time for Irish boxing in general. The amount of kids that got involved, the next Kenny Egans and Katie Taylors came through. It was indescribable."

So the dad-of-one surely keeps a shrine to his legendary sporting achievement at home.

"I had the medal out the other day," he laughs. "I think it is in the kitchen. I have a lovely replica medal in a frame on the wall of my house with a few pictures around it and it looks well - [I] wouldn't call it a shrine, now. I have the other one locked away and it only comes out now and again."

Kenny's herculean achievement will forever be ensconced in the Irish sporting hall of fame, but so too will his alcohol addiction that famously played out in the media.

He recalls: "I got dragged into that whole media attention, a barrage of attention and I rode that wave for two years.

"When I was sober I enjoyed it and when I was drunk I didn't want to be left alone. I was my own worst enemy and I brought a lot of attention on myself. I blamed a lot of people on that, but I was the one bringing the attention to my door.

"It took me 18 years to reach my Mount Everest, my peak, and it took me two years to hit rock bottom because it was a downward spiral. I hurt a lot of people and lost a lot of trust. I wasn't a nice person to my immediate family and friends."

At the depths of his dependence, Kenny adds: "I was falling around the house, cutting myself, being unpredictable, stupid stuff. I was uncontrollable. My mam told me that she didn't sleep right for two years after the Games because she was worried the guards would knock on the door and say that they found me somewhere dead.

"Now she rings me and I am dependable and reliable. If she needs a lift anywhere, I am there. It's a different life altogether - now she'd never have to worry about me being there for her."

It is immediately apparent that sobriety continues to be Kenny's ultimate win.

"I turned all that back around when I got sober, and that's definitely a big achievement today," he says. "It's not my Olympic medals - it's my sobriety and staying sober on a daily basis. I was wearing a mask for so many years, but I let go of all of that, and I just accepted that I was I was human and I was vulnerable."

Finding solace in AA was the turning point for the doting dad.

"At the very start I was thinking, what if people know me in these rooms?

"Ego can keep you in addiction longer than you should be - ego and pride. I was shameful at the start and then I swallowed my pride and I went in. I am a human, I made mistakes, and I wanted to get better. It was the best thing I've ever done."

The boxer-turned-politician also gained a whole new perspective when he welcomed his first child into the world with wife Karen in 2015.

"I am the best dad in the world, by the way," he smiles. "My little daughter Kate is five. She'll never see me drinking or drunk. I am always there for her - I walk her to school and I walk her home from school. She is my little buddy, my best friend and that is what sobriety has given me.

"The girl I was with before the Olympics, I left her and five years later she took me back. Now we are married and we have a child together. At my lowest point I was just thinking how I was going to get the next drink into me. Now I have everything I ever wanted.

"I love what I do and I love where I live," adds Kenny. "I have been around the world 10 times over, to 56 countries, and I always love coming home to Clondalkin. I love the people and I love the area. I am a real Clondalkin man through and through."

It's the low-key nature of his life now that the sports star credits with getting him through lockdown: "I kept it simple during Covid. I got a bit of training in, went running and read more. I spent more time with my daughter.

"The pandemic really is going to have far-reaching affects," he worries. "My daughter was indoors for an entire year, not playing with her friends and it is tough on her. Then you have teenagers and people losing their jobs, each different age group is going to struggle in different ways.

"The sooner we get things under control, the sooner we can continue on with our lives. I had my vaccine very early on.

"And, like I said, I like to keep it simple. I am happy with a good series on Netflix and a big cup of tea and chocolate."

Live Tokyo Olympic 2020 action will continue on RTÉ2, RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ Player until August 8

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