“I am ready for the battle,” says 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manoj Kumar. So is M.C. Mary Kom, the lone woman boxer in the eight-member squad for the London Olympics.
Manoj reflects the mood in the Indian boxing camp besides Mary Kom, the five-time world champion, as women’s boxing makes its debut in the Olympics this year.
Like a bunch of hardworking students waiting for the examination of their lifetime, the well-prepared Indian boxers are engaged in the countdown to the sternest test of their career. The boxers take pride in their abilities and in the fact that this will be the biggest-ever Indian boxing team to the Olympics.
The popularity of boxing touched new heights four years ago when Vijender Singh made history by becoming the first-ever Indian boxer to win a medal in the Olympics. It changed the profile of Indian boxing.
Today, Vijender stands as the most-illustrious figure in Indian boxing with the Olympics and World championship medals under his belt. With his growing international stature, he is the face of Indian boxing with a personal aim of bettering the colour of his medal.
“It’s a great honour that people are expecting a medal from me. I am not under any pressure…I am now used to the quality field and class competition,” said the 26-year-old middleweight boxer recently, ready to participate in his third Olympics in a row.
Chief national coach G.S. Sandhu solidly backed Vijender. “He is an experienced boxer and has proved himself several times. I expect good results from him,” says Sandhu.
The Indian superstar will face tough challenges from his old nemesis Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan apart from current world champion Ievgen Khytrov of Ukraine and silver medallist Ryota Murata of Japan.
For the rest of the Indian boxers, it will be their maiden Olympics appearance.
Welterweight boxer Vikas Krishan has experienced a meteoric rise. After claiming a World Youth title, a Youth Olympics medal and the 2010 Asian Games gold, he became the second Indian to grab a World championship medal.
Reigning world title holder Ukrainian Taras Shelestyuk, who had beaten Vikas in the World championships, Kazakh Serik Sapiyev and Egidijus Kavaliauskas are expected to pose threats to Vikas’s ambition.
“Vikas can do anything. He is mentally tough, his defence is strong and he has sharp reflexes,” assessed Sandhu.
Bantamweight Shiva Thapa also was successful in the Youth Olympics and World Youth events before stamping his class at the senior level through a silver in the Czech Republic Grand Prix. He made it to the Olympics in style as he bagged the Asian qualifying event gold.
Light flyweight boxer, L. Devendro Singh, a quarterfinalist in the World championship, has learnt that over-enthusiasm cannot ensure success. “I have rectified my mistakes relating to footwork and the problem of lowering my guard after landing a punch.”
Two-time Asian championship medallist Jai Bhagwan in light weight, the never-say-die light welterweight boxer Manoj Kumar and the lanky counter-puncher Sumit Sangwan in light heavyweight will be keen to showcase their talent.
Sandhu was optimistic. “The confidence level of the boxers has gone up. I expect better results but it is difficult to predict how many medals we can win,” said Sandhu.
Jaydev Bisht, one of the long-standing associates of Sandhu, agreed. “I have never seen the boxers so charged up. This is a good sign.”
Sandhu cautioned that the draw might play a part.
“However, the seedings will prevent the top boxers from meeting each other early,” he said.
Mary Kom will renew her rivalry with world champion Ren Cancan of China apart from looking forward to avenge her World championship loss to English boxer Nicola Adams in Quinhunagdao, China, in the flyweight division.
Despite the fact that the field in each of the women’s weights will have limited number of entries and will be a lot less demanding than the World championship, the seasoned Mary Kom refrained from making any tall claims.
“After a long journey of 12 years, I have got the chance to participate in the Olympics. Does not matter whether I win a medal or not,” said the 29-year-old, a trifle detached. Maybe, the path to glory traverses through the tough terrain of detachment!
Keywords: 2012 London Olympics