Strandja Memorial: Nikhat Zareen, Nitu strike gold for India

Indian boxers Nikhat Zareen (52kg) and Nitu (48kg) struck gold at the 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria by notching up thoroughly comprehensive victories in their respective finals on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Indian boxer Nitu (48kg) clinched the gold medal in 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria by notching up a facile win over Italy's Erika Prisciandaro in the finals on Sunday.   -  PTI

Indian boxers Nikhat Zareen (52kg) and Nitu (48kg) struck gold at the 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria by notching up thoroughly comprehensive victories in their respective finals on Sunday.

Nitu, competing for the first time in the event, prevailed 5-0 over Italy's Erika Prisciandaro, a former youth world championship bronze-medallist. Zareen, on the other hand, outpunched Ukraine's Tetiana Kob, a three-time European Championships medallist 4-1.

While Nitu produced a wonderful counter-attacking performance by taking full advantage of her longer reach and taller frame, Zareen was engaged in a draining and messy bout which had its fair share of clinching, holding and even some tumbling over in the ring.

"Both of them displayed completely different styles but both produced excellent performances. Credit to Nitu for keeping her composure and trusting her counter-attacks against an aggressive opponent," national women's team coach Bhaskar Bhatt told PTI over phone.

"Nikhat had to fight from close range throughout and she did well to land clear punches even though her opponent was not giving her a clear shot," he said.

India thus finished the tournament with three medals this time, Nandini (+81kg) being the third podium finisher with a bronze.

The Hyderabad-based Zareen, who is a multiple-time national medallist, had won a gold medal at the Strandja Memorial's 2019 edition as well. With another one added to her kitty this time, she became the first Indian boxer to claim two gold medals at the tournament.

READ: Strandja Memorial Boxing: Nandini wins bronze in +81kg category

"You can call me the queen of Strandja. I am just so happy right now," the 25-year-old laughed, out enjoying the snowfall after her triumph.

"This one is the more special of the two as I beat an Olympic medallist (Turkey's Buse Naz Cakiroglu who win silver in Tokyo Games) in the semifinals. It is a perfect confidence booster when three major events (the world championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games) are lined up," she added.

Nitu is a two-time former youth world champion and is also a former gold-medallist at the Asian youth championships.

"I just followed my coaches' advice. My plan was to counter-attack even though this girl is also a counter-attacking boxer. And since I was taller and had onger arms, she struggled throughout," Nitu said.

The 21-year-old hails from Haryana's famed cradle of Indian boxing, Bhiwani's Dhanana village.

The youngster was introduced to boxing by her father, who took a three-year leave without pay from his state government job to help her get coaching in her formative days.

He eventually rejoined work in Chandigarh when she started doing well at the international level.

"He works in the Haryana Secretariat and had a huge role to play in shaping her. She is a very hard-working girl," Bhatt said.

India won two medals in the last edition with Deepak Kumar and Naveen Boora securing silver and bronze respectively.

The performance of the men's squad was underwhelming this time with none of the seven in fray managing to enter the medal rounds.

In all, the tournament featured over 450 boxers from 36 countries, including traditional powerhouses such as Kazakhstan, Italy, Russia, France and Ukraine, where Russia launched a military operation on Thursday despite global appeal for restraint.

The Strandja Memorial is one of Europe's oldest boxing competitions and features high quality boxers from across the world.

India's best ever performance in the prestigious tournament came in 2019, when Amit Phangal, Zareen and Meena Kumari Devi claimed gold medals for the country in addition to a silver and three bronze medals.

In 2018, India came back with a higher tally of medals -- 11 in all -- but the gold count was lesser than 2019.

That year the country won two gold, three silver and six bronze medals with the men contributing five of them.

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