North Korea asserts supremacy

THE essence of boxing lies in the punches, jabs and hooks, but more importantly its survival hinges on the audience.

KIRTI PATIL

The North Korean team, which won the overall title. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

THE essence of boxing lies in the punches, jabs and hooks, but more importantly its survival hinges on the audience. Here we are talking about amateur boxing for women, and their struggle to get the sport deemed as an Olympic discipline.

Women's boxing, as a competitive sport, is hardly five years old. And speaking of its spectator-value, the element of it being exotic, adds to the numbers.

The Indian team finished runner-up. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

The second Asian women's boxing championship in Hisar reflected all these issues and, to some extent, addressed a few of them.

Politically, North Korea may be a highly-secluded nation, but when it comes to the sporting arena, it leaves no chance to express itself. The 10-member North Korean team bagged nine medals, including six gold and two silver, and retained its position as the continental superpower.

India upstaged China, the runner-up of the 2001 Bangkok Asian championship, to grab the second position, winning five gold, four silver and four bronze medals.

Competing in an outdoor ring, in front of thousands of spectators in a district town such as Hisar, could be an intimidating offer. On the opening day and on the day of the finals, the venue, Mahabir Stadium was jampacked.

India's M. C. Mary Kom (left) and R. L. Jenny won golds in the 46 kg and 63 kg categories respectively. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

For the villagers, witnessing women's boxing was a novel spectacle. Whoever said that in India people watch only cricket may have a misplaced notion. The Hisar experiment aptly showed that if such international events were conducted in smaller towns rather than in mega-cities, the Olympic sports would flourish.

The naive but committed crowd had the opportunity to witness four World champion boxers. One was India's own M. C. Mary Kom, the World pinweight champion. North Korea boasted of two, Ri Jong Hyang (48-kg) and Yun Kum Ju (57-kg), and China had one, Zhang Xiyan (54-kg).

Zhang, the gold medallist at the 2002 Turkey World championship, faced the ignominy of losing in the semi-final round of the bantamweight class.

No wonder that a bantamweight pugilist went on to claim the `best boxer' title at the end of the championship. Zhang won her first round comfortably beating Kayoko Ebat of Japan. The Chinese champion outscored Kayoko in the first round but met her match in the semi-final.

India's L. Sarita (left) defeated Ha Son Bi of Korea to win the 54 kg gold.-

North Korea's Ha Son Bi, the defending champion and `best boxer' of the Bangkok Asian meet, fought a superb battle against the odds. Ha kept herself at a distance and fended off quite a few punches while connecting two more than Zhang could. The final score read 24-22 in Ha's favour.

In the final Ha faced L. Sarita Devi and the way she started it looked as if the North Korean would make the Indian dance to her tunes. But as the bout wore on, Sarita Devi got herself to rally. Despite getting a beating, Sarita carried on attacking instead of defending. She connected a few punches on Ha's face and probably they carried more power than what Ha could absorb as the referee gave a standing count to the North Korean.

Both went into the final round with almost equal points on their respective charts. Sarita opened with a blowing punch and though Ha counter-attacked, the Indian hung on well. Sarita won 21-20 to give India its second gold, after two of its boxers, Meena Kumari and Sushma Kumari, had bit the dust.

India had opened its account through Mary Kom, who gave a rousing display against her familiar rival, Chou Szu Yin of Chinese Taipei.

Both Mary Kom and Chou had featured in the final of the World championship too. That Mary Kom maintained her leverage, was a good sign for Indian women's boxing. Mary showed fine reflexes, which upset her Taiwanese rival. Mary used the upper cuts effectively and, once in control, sent a flurry of punches on Chou's face.

India's Aruna (middle) bagged the title in the 66 kg event. Others seen are the silver medallist Wang Xian (left) and the bronze medallists Ri Jong Sim (second from right) and Lin Ya Ting. — Pics. R. V. MOORTHY-

Mary won by outscoring Chou in the second round, sending an ominous signal that she was ready for the 2004 World championship.

As women's boxing is still at an evolving stage, the international body (AIBA) has experimented with the weight categories. While the AIBA has brought down the weight categories from 12 to 11 for men, it has increased the same for women, from nine to 13.

The increase in weight classes translated into more women getting accommodated into the competition draw and India took full advantage of it. Having won just three silver and a bronze medal in Bangkok where the competition was held over nine weight classes, India improved its performance by notches.

The other gold winners for India were R. L. Jenny (63-kg), Aruna Misra (66-kg) and Jyotshna (80-kg). While Aruna and Jyotshna were too strong for their opponents, Jenny was made to fight till the end.

Of those who lost in the final, K. C. Lekha's first round defeat following ankle injury shows the apathy on the part of the technical officials.

India's Jyotshna is in an aggressive mood against Korea's Kim Ji Soo in the 80 kg category. Jyotshna won the gold. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

In the 75-kg category there were only two contestants which meant there would be a direct final. In many sports, given such a scenario, no competition is held due to lack of entries. Conversely, the sports administrators should have made sure that there would at least be enough entries to conduct the first round followed by semi-finals and the final.

"We are still struggling to get a foothold. Such instances do occur in the initial years," said a boxing official.

Lekha's was stretchered out as she limped out within 10 seconds of the start of the final. Clearly Lekha had not warmed up well for the final. It was late in the evening and the chill was in the air. Not that Lekha was in her first international competition. She had participated in the inaugural World championship in Pennsylvania and also the Bangkok Asian meet.

Lekha faced the World bronze medallist, Guo Shuai of China, in the final. As soon as the referee called the two pugilists to box, Guo made an attempt to attack. Lekha went on the back-foot and cramps did her in. She tried to continue but twisted her ankle in the process and fell. With that, India's aspirations of winning the team title also fell flat.

The results:

Finals: 46-kg: M. C. Mary Kom (Ind) bt Chou Szu Yin (Tpe) RSC (OS) 2nd. 48-kg: Ri Jong Hyang (PRK) bt Se Yan Furong (Chn) 33-24. 50-kg: Kim Kwang Ok (PRK) bt Meena Kumari (Ind) 18-13. 52-kg: Pak Kyok Ok (PRK) bt Sushma Kumari (Ind) RSC (OS) 1st. 54-kg: L. Sarita Devi (Ind) bt Ha Son Bi (PRK) 21-20. 57-kg: Yun Kum Ju (PRK) bt Kim Hyo Min (Kor) RSC (OS) 1st. 60-kg: Kang Kum Hui (PRK) bt Asha Rani Devi (Ind) RSC (OS) 2nd. 63-kg: R. L. Jenny (Ind) bt Kim Hye Yong (PRK) 27-17. 66-kg: Aruna Misra (Ind) bt Wang Xian (Chn) RSC (CCL) 1st. 70-kg: Kim Chol (PRK) bt Shi Hong Ning (Chn) 22-9. 75-kg: Guo Shuai (Chn) bt K. C. Lekha (Ind) RSC (I) 1st. 80-kg: Jyotshna (Ind) bt Kim Ji Soo (Kor) RSC (OC) 1st. Plus-80 kg: Wang Yanan (Chn) bt Pan Hul Ling (Tpe) RSC (CCL) 1st.

Semi-finals: 46-kg: Chou Szu Yin (Tpe) bt Tang Pui Ka (Hkg) RSC (OS) 2nd; M. C. Mary Kom (Ind) bt L. G. Chandrika (Sri) RSC (OS) 2nd. 48-kg: Se Yan Furong (Chn) bt Kanaka Durga (Ind) 37-29; Ri Jong Hyang (PRK) bt K. A. A. Dilrukshi (Sri) RSC (OC) 2nd. 50-kg: Meena Kumari (Ind) bt Lee Chi Man (Tpe) RSC (CCL) 1st; Kim Kwang Ok (PRK) bt Naoko Fujioka (Jpn) 24-17. 52-kg: Pak Kyok Ok (PRK) bt A. Yanase (Jpn) RSC (CCL) 1st; Sushma Kumari (Ind) bt Li Bo (Chn) RSC (OS) 2nd. 54-kg: L. Sarita Devi (Ind) bt Chen Hsin Tzu (Tpe) RSC (OS) 1st; Ha Son Bi (PRK) bt Zhang Xiyan (Chn) 24-22. 57-kg: Kim Hyo Min (Kor) bt A. Lama (Nep) RSC (OS) 2nd; Yun Kum Ju (PRK) bt Aswathy Prabha (Ind) 21-12. 60-kg: Kang Kum Hui (PRK) bt Jin Shi (Chn) RSC (OS) 1st; Asha Rani Devi (Ind) bt Cho Jung Sook (Kor) RSC (OS) 1st. 63-kg: R. L. Jenny (Ind) bt Tian Dan (Chn) 20-9; Kim Hye Yong (PRK) bt P. K. D. Sumudu (Sri) RSC (OS) 2nd. 66-kg: Aruna Misra (Ind) bt Ri Jong Sim (PRK) RSC (OS) 2nd; Wang Xian (Chn) bt Lin Ya Ting (Tpe) 19-9. 70-kg: Kim Chol Ok (PRK) bt Karamjeet Kaur (Ind) RSC (H) 3rd. Plus-80 kg: Wang Yanan (Chn) bt Renu (Ind) RSC (OS) 2nd.

Medals tally (read as gold, silver, bronze): North Korea 6-2-1, India 5-4-4, China 2-3-4, Chinese Taipei 0-2-3, South Korea 0-2-1, Sri Lanka 0-0-3, Japan 0-0-2, Hong Kong 0-0-1, Nepal 0-0-1.

Team championship: 1. North Korea 38 points, 2. India 35, 3. China 16.