"Life has not changed for me. My ultimate aim is a gold medal in the Olympics. Only after this can I think that I have done something in life," says Olympic boxing bronze-medallist Vijender Singh in this interview with Y. B. Sarangi.

By becoming the first boxer from India to win an Olympic medal, Vijender Singh has emerged as one of the most popular non-cricketing sporting icons in the country. Rarely does one see people coming up to a sportsman, not belonging to the cricketing fraternity, to shake hands with him or request him to pose for a photograph. Post-Beijing, Vijender is busy facing these situations and he has done so with grace. He has also tackled many television channels with nonchalance.

Even as he is maintaining a hectic schedule to fulfil his media and endorsement commitments, Vijender does not appear to be swayed by the sudden upward swing in his popularity. For a 22-year-old youngster, the surge in attention and a steadily-swelling bank account make for a real test of character as far as staying rooted to the ground is concerned. But Vijender seems to have it in him to emerge victorious in this bout as well, while craving for bigger glory in life.

Vijender spoke to Sportstar on his Olympic high-point and his life after achieving the historic success in Beijing. Excerpts from the interview:

Question: What were your best and worst moments in Beijing? Did you have any doubt that you may not win a medal?

Answer: I think all the moments in Beijing were good for me. When I won the medal and when I carried the national flag at the closing ceremony, they were obviously the dearest moments for me. There was hardly any bad moment in Beijing. Maybe I felt a little sad when I lost the semifinal bout to the Cuban boxer. I did not have any doubt as I was always focussed on my job and never thought much about anything else.

How much did teamwork help you in Beijing?

When I could not qualify for the Olympics on two occasions, in Chicago and Bangkok, people said various things. They said Vijender is finished, he cannot qualify. But at that time my parents, coaches and friends, like Ram Singh and Bunty, backed me and provided enough moral support. That is the reason I could qualify for the Olympics. If I had not qualified, I would have left boxing forever. Then, in the team we are like a family. We have been training in Patiala for the last three-four years. We used to back each other. We used to share our feelings after a bout and discuss whether it was easy or tough. Then, I had a lot of pressure on me after Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar lost their bouts in the quarterfinals. The hope of the entire nation was on me and I had to rise to the occasion. The team backed me well and I won a medal.

Do you think in the semifinal you lost to a better boxer (the Cuban)?

Yes, that day he was better than me. But it was a close fight. He got some points even with open gloves. It was equally fought. The previous bouts were also difficult, the second and the third. Especially, against the Thai boxer I was under pressure as I had lost to him before. So this time it was important to beat him. It was a difficult bout, but a good one.

Do you want to increase your weight category in the future?

See, I am gaining in weight. If in a few years I see that I have put on some weight, then I might consider the option of going up in the weight category.

How do you want to improve yourself as a boxer?

To get better, I have to do more training on strength as well as skills.

You are getting so much media attention and the fan following has increased too. Do you think life has changed for you after winning the Olympic medal?

Yes, there is so much of media attention on me after winning the medal. I am thankful to the media that they are projecting me like this. The fan following has also increased. But life has not changed for me. My ultimate aim is a gold medal in the Olympics. Only after this can I think that I have done something in life.

Do you think our boxers’ sterling show in Beijing will help lift Indian boxing?

This is just the start. This time there is only one bronze medal. Our target should be to do better and better in times to come. That will inspire the youth to take up boxing more seriously. On the international stage, the future of Indian boxing is bright.

What is the difference in standard between Indian boxers and boxers from other countries?

There is not much difference. Our standards are the same. We are good enough to do well and win medals in international tournaments.

How much has the Cuban coach B.I. Fernandez’s presence helped Indian boxers?

In Cuba, boxing is widespread. It’s as popular as cricket is in our country. Mr. Fernandez is a very qualified and experienced coach. He has been in India for 10-12 years now. He has shared his experience as well as the technicalities of boxing with us. Even my style has become more Cuban. Besides, Gurbax Singh Sandhu and other coaches have made significant contributions to our success.

Can boxing contribute to improving the lifestyle of a sportsman in a country like India?

Yes it can play a major role in that because boxing is an inexpensive and individual sport. You can play independently. While you are in the ring, you are all alone. Nobody is there with you. So, if you can work hard and do well and win some medals you can make a fortune and change your life.

Should professional boxing make its debut in India? Do you think boxing can be a television-friendly sport?

Like the Indian Premier League in cricket, soon there is going to be a Boxing Professional League in England. People are showing a lot of interest in it and it’s going to be a big hit. So there is a good chance that boxing can become popular through TV. In India, I think there should be a professional league in boxing. Sometime ago, a Challenger Fight Night was organised in Gurgaon and it drew a lot of crowd. So such type of fights should be organised more often.

Did you ever have any fears? Didn’t you think that you could suffer an injury?

No, because I always love power sports. I like things involving fights. Then, boxing is an individual sport where you do not have to be dependent upon others, you can do things on your own. I wanted to pursue a sport that allowed me to play independently.

You have a dream of turning a professional boxer one day and fighting at the Madison Square Garden. When are you going to do that?

Yes, I have that dream to fulfil. But my first aim is the Olympic gold medal. After that I will turn a professional boxer and announce the arrival of India at Madison Square.

Are you confident that Indian boxing would deliver a gold in the 2012 London Olympics?

Yes, I am very much confident that a boxing gold will be there for India in the 2012 Games. Not only boxing, I am also hopeful about other sports as well. The way we are doing right now, if that becomes better we will definitely win gold in other sports. Like in shooting, we have world champions. So there is no reason why we cannot do well in London.

Scoring seems to be an art these days. Has it changed the way you box?

Boxing has become faster these days. It has become a mind sport as well. You have to be very watchful and alert. A boxer has to be intelligent to thrive. It’s a combination of intelligence, endurance, strength and speed.

How do you normally spend your free time?

I love to listen to music and I watch lots of sports on TV. Basically, I like to watch power sports.

What do you like to wear when you are not playing?

Jeans and T-shirt are my favourite. I feel comfortable in them.

What kind of food do you like to eat?

I love any home-cooked food. I like anything cooked by my mother. She is the best cook on earth.

Would you like to model?

See, I am what I am because of boxing, so my first priority will always be boxing. If I get some free time, I can give it for modelling but not at the cost of boxing.