Gunning for gold

Vijender (left) in action against Atoev Abbos of Ukraine.-AP Vijender (left) in action against Atoev Abbos of Ukraine.

With two bronze medals in his kitty, Vijender Singh refuses to rest on his laurels and aims for gold at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. By Y. Sarangi.

The Olympic medal in Beijing changed his life and the World Championship medal in Milan placed Vijender Singh in an elite league of celebrated legendary sportspersons in the country.

However, success has not changed Vijender’s personality. He remains the same composed, down-to-earth young man with a rustic touch. He has, with time, learnt to handle fame and money.

“I am what I am because of boxing and will never let it down. All my well-wishers keep telling me that I should stay focused on the sport. I know that if I do what I know best then other things will follow. That’s why, no matter wherever I stay, I train everyday and stay fit,” says the 23-year-old from Haryana.

After the Olympics, Vijender took an eight-month break. He appeared on television shows and walked the ramp, partied with movie stars and shot some advertisements. He had turned into an instant celebrity. He was away from the ring and critics began to doubt his motivation to box again. Some even wrote him off.

Now, with the World Championship medal under his belt, Vijender thinks he has suitably answered his critics. “People tend to run down athletes when they are injured and not doing well. They should back them in the hour of crisis. They should realise that we are men, not machines. People hardly know that during the World Championship I badly injured my left ear and got some solid blows in ribs, which are still aching. It takes time to get back one’s fitness,” he says.

Vijender’s two bronze medals, were historic feats that lifted the status of boxing, at least in terms of popularity.

Besides, the medals ushered in a change in the mindset too. “Indian boxing is in a state of flux. Earlier, our boxers used to have a mental block while fighting against opponents from reputed countries. Now that thing is gone and we have started getting medals at every level and boxing is among the top three sports in the country. The junior boxers are doing well and I am sure we will win more and more gold medals,” says the middleweight boxer.

Vijender... enjoying his success.-PTI

Vijender speaks from the heart while talking about the changing fortunes of Indian boxing. “There is huge potential in the sport although in our country Bollywood and cricket are the two big entertainers. But, after some time, people are bound to get bored and look at other options. Boxing promises to fill that space. Now corporate houses are coming to the sport and it is a big thing,” he says.

In this regard, the ace pugilist believes that the professional World Series of Boxing (WSB), likely to make its debut next year, and its Indian version — the Indian Series of Boxing (ISB) — will play crucial roles.

“For WSB, we have to make our grassroots stronger. You need more quality boxers, more bouts should be held in India so that our people can watch them from close quarters. Television has a very big role to make it popular. The ISB is also a good idea. Our boxers normally come from middle class families and this will help them because all the boxers cannot make it to the elite level,” he says.

What about his proposed debut at the famous Madison Square Garden? “During the World Championships, some people from the US had approached me with offers (of joining professional boxing). But, I would like to test myself in the WSB, see how it suits me and seek my coaches’ opinions before making any decision. I am not in a hurry as professional boxing is very different and you need a lot of stamina to box for 12 rounds,” Vijender says.

Having bagged medals at two elite meets — the Olympics and the World Championship — Vijender aims for more! “When I started, I had never thought that I would achieve all this. But when you know that you could have done better, it hurts. In the World Championship, my aim was to, at least, make the final. I could not do that. Now, I want to change the colour of the medals (at big meets). A lot of people are asking me when and I want to do it as soon as possible,” he says.

His semifinal loss in Milan still rankles Vijender, who hates to remember his below par showing. “That day I was not in my elements. I had beaten my opponent (Atoev Abbos of Ukraine) in the Asian Championship, had planned everything but could not execute them. You feel a different kind of pressure in the Olympics. All the elite sportspersons of the world assemble in the biggest sporting extravaganza and the atmosphere is extraordinary. Plus, for me, the challenge to prove myself at the biggest stage was always there,” he says.

“However, the world Championship is also quite big. You fight more bouts to get a medal. Of course, there was a lot of pressure in the semifinals as I badly wanted to win that bout.”

Other than bagging the medal at the Worlds, Vijender recently did another first by inking a multi-crore contract with Percept. The lanky boxer thinks he has broken another barrier and this would inspire other companies to promote boxers in a big way.

On the objection raised by his previous promoter, IOS, Vijender says, “I have not done anything wrong by signing Percept. I did it to promote boxing. If they (IOS) had come forward with a good offer, I would have signed with them.”

Looking ahead, he says, “I will take a break. However, my next aim is do well in the Commonwealth Games. I am sure India will shine there and will notch up three or four gold medals in boxing. I will always stay connected with boxing in some way or the other. Even after eight to 10 years, I will be doing something related to boxing because it has given me everything in life.”

* * * Indians live up to their billing

India opened its medal account in the World Boxing Championship in Milan when top seed Vijender Singh won the middleweight bronze medal by making the semifinals of the 75kg category.

Notwithstanding the Haryana boxer’s medal, this year India’s performance in the meet was more impressive compared with the previous edition in Chicago (2007) where only one boxer from the country had made the quarterfinals. This time, apart from Vijender, Dinesh Kumar (81 kg) also reached the last-eight stage.

Dinesh fought bravely to reach the quarterfinals but failed to win one more round to be eligible for a medal. He was shown the door by Artur Beterbiev of Russia, who eventually won the gold.

India had sent a nine-member team to Milan and considering the ability and track records of the boxers it was considered as the best ever representation from the country at the Worlds.

Unfortunately, Asian champion M. Suranjoy Singh (51 kg) lost in the first round on the basis of individual scoring after he tied 10-10 with Mongolian Nyambayar Tugstsogt, who went on to bag the silver.

Asian Championship silver medallist Jai Bhagwan (60 kg) was another Indian boxer who performed well to enter the pre-quarters before he met his match (3-9) in Eugene Burhard of Germany.

World Youth champion T. Nanao Singh (48 kg) suffered a 4-16 defeat at the hands of Thai boxer Kaeo Pongprayoon in the second round.

The World Championship proved disappointing for World Cup medallists Akhil Kumar (57 kg) and Jitender Kumar (54 kg), both of whom had moved to higher weight categories a few months back.

Akhil, appearing in his first international outing in the new weight and the new three-round format, injured his right wrist within a minute of his first round bout. Somehow, he hung in there to complete the bout against Navarro Roberto Gonzalez of Dominican Republic and lose 2-16.

Jitender was disqualified against Anvar Yusunov of Tajikistan when the Indian was trailing 6-20. Manoj Kumar (64 kg) and Manpreet Singh (91 kg) were the other Indians who were beaten in the first round by Brazilian Myke Carvaho (who won 5-4) and Ukrainian Usyk Olexndr (who won 16-2) respectively.