His was the Olympic medal that paved the way for India's ascension to world-beating standards in boxing. Vijender Singh, however, has moved on from that life-changing bronze 13 summers ago in Beijing.

"That's growth, when you shed one identity and embrace new things, understand things which didn't matter at some point. It comes with time and responsibility," the middleweight boxer told  PTI  in an exclusive chat.

"Life is a new lesson every day," he says.

With one month to go for the Tokyo Olympics, however, one can't help take a trip down memory lane to relive one of the most iconic moments in Indian sports - the country's first Olympic medal in boxing.

"Those were golden days, we were carefree, without responsibilities. Our training, diet, and a few friends were all that mattered," the 35-year-old, who is a three-time Olympian, said as he recalled the build-up to the Games in Beijing.

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He made it to the big event in what was the last qualifying event after two failed attempts. In Beijing, he was the lone boxing medal hope left when the more experienced Akhil Kumar lost in the quarterfinals, a shock considering he had beaten the world champion - Sergey Vodopyanov - in the previous round.

Shouldering unprecedented expectations, Vijender kept his calm to get the better of Ecuador's Carlos Gongora in his quarterfinal bout, and history was made.

It meant the world to him at that time but over a decade later, unlike many others, he wouldn't even write 'Olympian' on his social media bios.

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"I had a good Olympics, I gave my best in Beijing. Fortunately, it translated into a bronze medal. Along the way, it helped Indian boxing, good for everyone I say. But I have tried several things after that. I got married, had children, turned professional, got into politics, too. So, I don't see the point of looking back," he explained.

" Ek purani kahawat hai hamare yahan, agar girna bhi ho to aage ko giro, peeche ko nahin. Peeche jaake ya peeche gir ke kya fayda  (We have an old saying. If you fall, fall forward, not backwards)," he laughed as he tried to put things in perspective.


Vijender Singh is declared the winner of a professional bout in August, 2017, against Zulpikar Maimaitiali, in Mumbai. Vijender turned professional in 2015. - AP


How does he view the medal chances of the unprecedented nine Indian boxers who have qualified for the Games this time? "Really strong. I don't follow amateur boxing very closely because I am occupied elsewhere, too, but from whatever I have seen, heard, and read, they look good to win more than one medal," Vijender said.

"Amit (Panghal) is in tremendous form, Vikas (Krishan) looks strong and obviously you have Mary Kom. It's a very accomplished line-up and I hope to catch some action if not follow their progress completely in Tokyo. Also among the women, Simranjit Kaur is there. It is good to see so many young faces going to their maiden Olympics. I am sure it would be a life-changing experience for them," added the star, who contested and lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from South Delhi on a Congress ticket.

That heartbreak notwithstanding, Vijender said he won't give up on politics. "It's not about winning or losing elections, it's about convictions. I have mine, many others have theirs and it is never a bad thing to stick to those convictions. So, I would be around and do my best," he said.

With COVID-19 casting a shadow on almost everything that was once normal in the world, Vijender's professional career is also on hold for now although he does hope to fight at least once later this year. "The situation is such that I don't feel comfortable travelling right now. I am happy to be daddy to my sons, it is a priceless time," he said.

But once the world returns to normalcy, Vijender has a dream that he hopes to accomplish. "I want to climb Mount Everest someday. It's a dream and I haven't done anything to get started on it just yet but I hope someday I can. That would be some achievement, isn't it?" he signed off.