Former India boxer Dingko Singh passes away aged 42

Dingko, who ended India’s 16-year wait for an Asian Games boxing victory in the bantamweight division in Bangkok, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2017.

Former India boxer Dingko Singh. (File Photo)   -  Vivek Bendre

Asian Games gold medallist Dingko Singh, who inspired a generation of Indian boxers with his feat in Bangkok in 1998, passed away at Imphal on Thursday after a prolonged battle with cancer. His death was confirmed by a close family friend.

Dingko was 42 and is survived by his wife, son and daughter.

He had been battling cancer since 2017 and recovered from a bout of COVID-19 last year.

According to boxers close to Dingko, the health condition of the iconic pugilist started deteriorating about three months back. The end came early on Thursday.

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Dingko rose to prominence by winning the 1997 Kings Cup in Bangkok.

He could not make it to the 1998 Asian Games squad after his second-round exit in the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games and took to drinking out of frustration.

Dingko was included in the squad at the last minute and gave his best to bring India its first boxing gold medal in 16 years.

In an earlier interview, Dingko said his semifinal bout against local favourite and World No. 2 Wong Prages Sontaya was the toughest fight of his career. The Thai supporters threw beer cans at him after the bout. Dingo beat World No. 3 Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan in the bantamweight final to corner glory.

On his return to Imphal, he was accorded a hero’s welcome. Later, the Manipur Government named a road after him. He was conferred the Arjuna Award in 1998 and Padma Shri in 2013.

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“Dingko was a great fighter with strong determination. Like Vijender’s Olympics bronze medal, Dingko’s Asian Games gold popularised boxing, especially in the North-East,” said G.S. Sandhu, who was the head coach in 1998.

Middleweight boxer Jitender Kumar, who was Dingko’s team-mate in 1998 Asian Games and 2000 Olympics, walked down memory lane. “Dingko gave his best in the final and was completely exhausted. The crowd was hostile, but he never reacted. He was a fine boxer and a good human being,” said Jitender.

Vijender Singh, who led an initiative to raise funds for Dinko’s cancer treatment, was emotional. “It is shocking. As a youngster, I watched his Asian Games fights on a black-and-white television set in our village. He really inspired a lot of boxers,” said Vijender.

'True hero'

Six-time World champion M.C. Mary Kom tweeted, “You were a true hero of our nation. You leave but your legacy will live among us. RIP.”

Dingko left his legacy as a coach. He coached the Navy team to team championship victory in the 2009 inter-Services meet and groomed some top boxers including Olympian Anthresh Lakra and Commonwealth Games champion Suranjoy Singh.

“He was a hard taskmaster but was friendly after the training. His mantra was ‘No pain, no gain,’” said Suranjoy.

After retiring from the Navy, Dingko joined the Sports Authority of India (SAI) at Imphal. The 2019 National boxing championships at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, where he served as Manipur’s head coach, was one of Dingko’s last assignments before the recurrence of cancer last year.

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