Heard the one about the ballet-dancing plumber setting the standard in Australian boxing?
When Harry Garside dipped his head to accept a gold medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, his transformation from lanky unknown to legitimate boxing star was almost complete.
In the rush for a label, the local press went with “Dirty” Harry, but Garside was just too damned nice for it to stick — all he wanted to do was get home to Mooroolbark in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs and drape his medal around the neck of Brian Levier, his septuagenarian trainer.
To outsiders, it was an unexpected triumph.
For Garside and Levier, it was just step one in a grand plan many years in the making.
In Sunday’s round of 32 bout of the lightweight (57-63kg) division in Tokyo, Garside took his Olympic bow and made good on 15 years of shared endeavour.
The final analysis was a unanimous 5-0 points defeat of Papua New Guinea’s John Ume, although it was far from comfortable going.
Fitter, lighter on his feet and far more organised, the Australian recovered from an early wobble and wore out his hard-punching opponent, defending expertly and peppering Ume to pre-empt a dangerous right that never came.
It secures Garside a date with a trickier opponent still in Namibia’s Jonas Jonas — also a Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
Few bouts at Olympic level are straightforward, but Garside is now one step closer to making his dream come true.
The scrawny kid and the trainer who believed in him
When he was 12, he made a bold declaration to a local newspaperman: “I am going to try to win a gold medal at the Olympics — that’s my goal.”
Weighing in at 43kg back then, he’d just beaten Lester Ellis’s son Darcy in his third bout, fighting angry after a loss in his second.
The losses were quite common at that point — in 10 of Garside’s first 18 fights, he left the ring defeated.
Before anyone else, Levier saw something else, something special.
Fifty-five years separate 24-year-old Garside and his mentor, but Garside calls him his best mate and each thinks the other is one of a kind.
They’ve been inseparable since Garside was a gangly nine-year-old shadowing Levier in the corner as the big boys fought.
Once the gloves were on, the kid didn’t miss a single training session.
Bit by bit, Levier noticed all the hallmarks of a top fighter: dedication, determination, technique, a genuine love of the sport, and a giant heart.
“I’ve never seen a kid as dedicated as Harry,” Levier told Leader News in 2017.
Plenty of kids dream of Olympic glory, few cling to a specific goal as determinedly as Garside.
At three national championships before his first triumph in 2018, he was not just a loser but a walkover.
Opponents snickered about enjoying the warm-up bouts he offered.
At 19, Garside failed at the final hurdle and missed selection for Rio 2016.
“Heartbreaking” was the only word he could find to describe it.
But he kept working, and Levier kept believing.
Now Garside mentors younger versions of himself and explains what happened when he really knuckled down: The wins accumulated, national titles followed.
Even so, when Levier predicted a Commonwealth Games medal in 2018, nobody else listened.
Accordingly, there is now a mythic quality to Garside’s golden moment in Queensland.
A Townsville trainer, Johnny Lindgren, is known to use the story to inspire his charges.
Last November, Garside went a step — and many jabs — further, putting 20 of Lindgren’s boys through sparring sessions.
Would success in Tokyo go to his head? You’d think not.
“I’m back plumbing, back on the shovel and back with the boys.”
Boxer not afraid to stand apart from peers
If he goes all the way, it will have been a family effort.
Mother Kate watched her youngest son’s early bouts with her hands clasped over her eyes, unsure how the self-described “wimp” of the family had been transformed from a mummy’s boy who dodged contact sport to a pugilist who loved the brutality of boxing.
Two years ago, in a more practical move, she bought Harry some vouchers for the now infamous ballet classes.
Garside had always wanted to try — his hero, dual Olympic champion Vasyl Lomachenko, had used the dance floor to improve his footwork and balance.
Equally, it revealed something deeper — Garside’s willingness to stand apart from his macho peers.
In mentoring work for the Reach Foundation, he focuses on challenging harmful gender stereotypes.
“I’ve always been a bit of an unusual person, I’ve always been a little bit different,” Garside recently said.
Like Garside’s early moves in boxing, the ballet was a failure at first, but he stuck with it.
A few bouts later, he said his footwork, coordination and thinking all changed for the better.
After these Games, the ballet-dancing plumber will eye a professional career, but it’s the weeks ahead that he has truly set himself up for — his hard-earned chance to drape Australia’s first Olympic boxing gold medal around Brian Levier’s neck.