How Dingko Singh assessed his Asian Games gold medal

Dingko Singh talks about his gold medal triumph at the 1998 Asian Games, his preparations for the Sydney Olympics and how he will never join the professional boxing circuit, in this interview dating back to January 1999.

Dingko Singh

Dingko Singh landed India's first boxing gold in the Asian Games in 16 years, Kaur Singh having won the heavy-weight crown in 1982 in Delhi.   -  SANDEEP SAXENA

Having announced his arrival in the international arena last year with a memorable triumph at the King's Cup in Bangkok, Dingko was anxiously waiting for the Asian Games. He was spurred by the silver winning effort of Jitender Kumar in the Commonwealth Games.

From the Prime Minister of the country to the Chief Minister of Manipur, everyone congratulated Dingko Singh, who has been promoted to the post of chief petty officer by his employer, the Navy.

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Here is a freewheeling interview with the champion boxer.

How was the Asian Games experience?

The coaches planned everything for me. I didn't do well in Kuala Lumpur in the Commonwealth Games, but after coming back I worked hard and my performance went up. I never said that I was ill and can't train even once. For days together, I trained hard and my coaches were really happy. They were behind me all the time. I improved very well. Once I was in Bangkok, I knew that even the first round would be tough. However, I was not worried about my opponents. When two boxers fight, one has to lose for sure. I have never fought as well as I did in the four bouts in the Asian Games.

Were you trying to prove a point?

No, I was relaxed, and there was no tension at all. My mind was completely focussed on the fight and I was only thinking about handling the opponent and nothing else.

So, the relaxed approach helped you?

Absolutely. I was very relaxed. I felt very pleased winning bout after bout. The good thing was I was get- ting rest in between the bouts. It helped me a lot to recover and prepare for the next fight.

You beat the World Cup silver medallist and the world No. 3 Sontaya Wongprates of Thailand in front of frenzied home supporters. This should have been your toughest bout.

Undoubtedly, it was. I felt more happy beating the local lad than winning the final itself. I felt so thrilled beating the Thai that I can't describe it in words. Both the coaches B. I. Fernandez and Gurbax Sandhu were so happy that they had tears in their eyes.

Will you rate it as your best fight ever?

In this competition, it was the best bout for me. The Thai troubled me and I also troubled him. It was a very good fight.

How was the first fight, the one against the Chinese Hongtao Wei?

The Chinese was a medallist in the Goodwill Games. They have obviously fielded him in a lot more championships than us. They are more experienced than us. It was the blessings of my mother, sisters and by God's grace that I won the gold, beating all these world class boxers. The one positive factor was that I was a lot quicker than my opponents, both in movements and punches.

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You outclassed the Cambodian Vireak Svay in the quarterfinal.

It was a routine bout. No competition from the opponent at all.

Were you confident of winning the gold, once you won the semifinal against the favourite Sontaya Wongprates? The finalist, Uzbek Timur Tulyakov, had beaten the world No. 1 Font Waldemar of Cuba.

I was of doing well, and was not worried at all. But, in boxing you never know. It is a matter of one good punch. Jitender Kumar fought so well but lost by one point. Gurcharan Singh and Harpal Singh also fought superbly. But they were perhaps not destined to achieve what I did.

Dingko Singh

Dingko Singh celebrates after beating Timur Tulyakov in the final bout.   -  V. SUDERSHAN

Was there any pressure on you before the final, as no Indian had won an Asian Games gold for 16 years?

My coaches did not tell me all that. They just said, 'Dingko, don't worry about winning or losing. Box the way you know best. You have practised so much, just stick to your usual style. Show your skills. Whatever happens thereafter, let it happen. We are all behind you.' I was happy with their sound advice. If they had said, Dingko you have knocked out so many people in practice, there is no reason why you can't do it here, it would have been bad.

Maybe this is your turn to win gold.

It looks like that, this year. Gurcharan won a gold in Cuba. I have won the gold in the Asian Games. Jitender Kumar did very well to win a silver in the Commonwealth Games.

With you boxers excelling at one time or the other, it must have taken the pressure off the team?

Definitely. We can't depend on one boxer all the time. It is good to have four or five boxers who are capable of winning medals. You can't predict how one will fight on a given day.

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After the Asian Games triumph, there were so many functions, and so many people are coming to you and asking you so many questions. Are you comfortable with all this attention?

I am extremely happy. I never thought that I would reach such a stage in life where everyone would come and congratulate me. The Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, the IOA, the Government... I am really delighted with the overwhelming gestures.

Dingko Singh

Dingko Singh with the Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, after his triumphant return from Bangkok.   -  ANU PUSHKARNA

The government initially did not clear your name. It must have worried you then?

Honestly, I didn't know the details. But, looking at the coaches and their reaction I was getting worried a bit. The coaches kept saying, 'your name is there, you will go'. After the initial disappointment, I thought I will continue to train whether I go or not. If they don't send me this time, they may do so next time. I thought I will get a chance, and continued to practise. The confusion was of course there. If they had not sent me I would have felt bad, okay. But the country would have lost a medal. The IOA was happy to send me and now the medal is there. Who is happy? Not just me, the government, the people, my family and everyone. It is good that they took care of me.

So, all these made you aggressive?

To be frank, while coming back from the Commonwealth Games, I cried at the airport. I thought, okay, it was not my destiny to win a medal in the Commonwealth Games. I told myself that I was not lucky, but I could not control the tears. Then I thought, let it be, and I will show them in the Asian Games. I told the people also like that.

After the King's Cup gold last year, there was no matching performance from you till the Asian Games gold. Any reason for that?

I perhaps rejoiced a bit more than required. I went back home to my family after three years and celebrated a little more. I didn't practise well. Not because I was disinterested, but only because I stayed back for about three months with my family.

So, it was due to lack of training?

No, once I came back, I did train hard. If the medals did not come, we can't help it. It is all a matter of destiny.

Once Jitender won the silver in Kuala Lumpur, did it spur you to prove your worth as well?

Jitender's show made us all happy. But, we also think if Jitender can do it, why not Dtngko. If Dingko can, why not Gurcharan. That is the way we think.

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How much will this gold make you feel confident to rise in world rankings?

I am feeling very confident. But I very well know that to reach the top of the world, I have to work very hard. I also have to listen to the coaches. Even if I don't become world No. 1, I am sure I can become world No. 2 at least. To reach that level, I have to practise hard, and get a lot of international exposure.

How about preparing for the Sydney Games, to fulfil the second half of your dream?

I have already started thinking about the Sydney Olympics a bit. Before that I have to qualify for Sydney from three competitions. I would like to qualify from the first competition, the Asian Championship itself, so that I can start dreaming about the Sydney Olympics. That is the first target.

What about your family?

We are five brothers and sisters, including me. Two elder sisters and one elder brother are married. I have one younger sister, who is studying.

What do you remember of your early days?

I never knew that we were poor. My father died when I was a kid. I was hardly at home, as I was studying at a centre in Dimapur, where we were being taken care of very well. Education and everything was free. I studied upto sixth standard.

How did you get into boxing?

I was selected for the Special Area Games scheme of SAI in 1990, for boxing.

Were you interested in boxing?

They asked me, what do you want to play. I replied, boxing. I practised for one year, and in the next championship got a silver and the "best loser" award in 1990. Then, I thought if I box well I can come up in life. But, honestly I never thought about becoming a national or international champion. I thought I could win national level medals.

Your first coach must have given you a good training?

Yes. I got excellent training from L. Ibomcha Metei. He was phoning me often from Manipur. He only took my hands and showed what boxing is all about. He is a very good man.

Sports has given you a good life and status.

I am happy to be a sportsman. Now in India, 10 to 20 people know me, only because I am a boxer.

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No, millions know you now.

It is all because of sports. Otherwise, who will know me and my name.

There is a lot of money coming your way.

Yes. Money is good. But we have to be careful that it doesn't spoil us. I am happy that I am getting all these rewards. But, if I start drinking in happiness, there is no point. I don't know how much money is coming, but I will give everything to my mother.

The reaction from the public is tremendous after your gold medal in the Asian Games. This was not the case when you won gold in the King's Cup.

Yes, there is a big difference. King's Cup was not a small competi- tion either. It is a world ranking tour- nament. If you look at the quality of opposition, both the championships are equally tough. However, King's Cup gold does not get you much. At least not as much as the Asian Games gold. Look at so many welcomes and so many rewards. That is the difference.

What are your future plans?

I have got some suggestions as to how I should prepare. I want to go out to European countries for training to get ready for the Olympics.

What are the areas in which you require improvement?

I have to improve everything. All aspects have to be improved. If I want to do something in Olympics I have to improve a lot.

Three Indian boxers have become professionals and had some success also. Would you like to turn professional?

I don't want to become a professional. I don't like the idea of righting for money. It doesn't attract me. Representing the country and earning a name is what I am keen on. If I can't do that, I will sit at home, but will not become a professional.

What are your hobbies?

Boxing is my full time hobby! I listen to music and watch films.

A lot of youngsters would like to imitate you. What would you like to tell them?

You should practise hard, and wholeheartedly. Listen to the coaches. Study at the right time and play at the right time. Of course, you can't succeed in two things at a time. You can't do well in studies and boxing at the same time. You have to sacrifice one. If you become a good sportsman, you may have to lose your studies. I was like that. But, you should decide about it, not your parents.       

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