Punching away all odds

Punching away all odds

Boxing : Despite lack of support, the Indian pugilists have done well to make the cut

Punching away all odds

 After Vijender Singh's historic bronze in Beijing, London Olympics was the time when Indian boxing was brimming with confidence.

Eight pugilists had made the cut, but what followed was a rude shock. None of the male boxers could fetch a medal. Instead, prospects like Vikas Krishan and Manoj Kumar returned with sore hearts, controversial scoring cutting short their journey.

Today, both have grown as boxers, have witnessed the deteriorating boxing scene in the country, and despite myriad obstacles, have found a way to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Krishan was merely 20 when he appeared for his maiden Olympics. He still believes he was wronged during his controversial first-round exit. He was declared the winner against American Errol Spence by 13-11 margin. However, hours later, the result was overturned in favour of the American.

“It was so painful, I had told everybody that I was going for gold medal. I didn’t feel like touching my boxing gloves,” recalled Krishan, who shifted from welter-weight to middleweight (75kg), the same category where his idol Vijender Singh won an Olympic bronze in 2008.

The heartbreak kept him away from boxing for one full year. He got married and drowned himself with his training with Haryana Police. Krishan was enjoying the break from the chains of discipline before his deep-rooted love for boxing resurfaced.  “Deep within I always knew I would return to the sport. Today I don’t want to recall the painful past.”

Krishan’s return to boxing was fraught with hurdles. He had lost his touch; his speed in particular. There were no national championships in the absence of federation, limited international exposure and new rules in place. A bronze in 2014 Asian Game -- he had a gold in 2010 -- made him realise the need to bridge the gap. He went to the US to train under coach Willie Moses, whose training programme he is following, even as he struggled to make the qualification mark for Rio Games. His eagerness to qualify saw him try out both amateur and professional routes.

Krishan, who is supported by JSW, even went to Venezuela to participate in 2016 APB & WSB Olympic Qualifier in Vargas on June 30.

“I had decided to go there before I qualified in Baku in June. It gave me a good opportunity to speak and spar with pro-boxers.  It helped me add power to my punches. Last time, I had qualified eight months ago and couldn’t keep up the focus.

“I am working on every aspect of my game-be it strength, or speed or endurance. I feel this is the best time for me to return with a medal for my country,” said Krishan, who has a World championship bronze and an Asian championship silver to his name. Manoj (64kg), on the other hand, had fought a lonely battle in the absence of sponsors. Like Krishan, the 29-year-old too claimed “cheating” in London Olympics after his losing his pre-quarterfinals to home favourite Tom Stalker.

Manoj, who is coached by his elder brother, Rajesh, is banking on his self belief and hard work. “People ask how do we manage without a federation, but I say we have seen worst times. On a personal front, I ran from pillar to post to get myself a sponsor but no one came forward. By qualifying, I have proved them my worth,” said the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist who is among the three Indian boxers to qualify for Rio.

“I have forgotten the past. My brother Rajesh had told me he wanted to see me win an Olympic medal and that is my mission.  We had a good training in the UK and I am ready to fulfil my dream at Rio.”

Coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu lamented the decline of boxing in the country but hoped his boxers would come out with flying colours in Rio. “Boxing is very subjective, very tough to understand. All three boxers are experienced and had played in Olympics. The world’s best boxers are going to be there. We have made the most of what we had, we had good training at Sheffield where the Olympic qualifiers boxers from Britain and Bulgaria came. It has benefited our boxers, let us hope for the best,” he said.