Ready to pack a punch

The Indian boxing contingent for the London Olympics. (Left to right), Jai Bhagwan, Sumit Sangwan, Devendro Singh, M. C. Mary Kom, Vijender Singh, Shiv Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan Yadav.-AP The Indian boxing contingent for the London Olympics. (Left to right), Jai Bhagwan, Sumit Sangwan, Devendro Singh, M. C. Mary Kom, Vijender Singh, Shiv Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan Yadav.

India is sending its best-ever boxing team to London. You have a man with a proven track record in Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh and also women’s champion Mary Kom. Over to Y. B. Sarangi.

“If we get medals now (in the Olympics), then (the profile of) boxing will go up. If not, it will be a setback,” said chief National coach G. S. Sandhu before the Indian boxing team departed for London with an air of positivity.

Either way Sandhu cannot be wrong. Having spent several decades of his career in the National camps in Patiala, the 59-year-old, exactly a year away from his retirement, knows that he is leading the best-ever team, which incidentally is also India’s biggest ever, to the Olympics.

However, Sandhu’s wealth of experience has taught him enough lessons about the vagaries of the sport. That is why he prefers to be a little cautious. Not the pack of seven boxers, though.

It is a good mix of youth and experience. You have a man with a proven track record in Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh (75kg), a hungry performer in Jai Bhagwan (60kg) and a spirited fighter in Commonwealth Games champion Manoj Kumar (64kg).

Complementing this is a promising quartet of youngsters. World championship bronze medallist Vikas Krishan (69kg) is shrewd as a fox. Youth Olympics silver medallist Shiva Thapa (56kg) is a picture of intelligence. Sumit Sangwan (81kg) is a cool customer with fire in his belly and L. Devendro Singh (49kg) personifies enthusiasm.

Besides, there is five-time World champion and current Asian women’s champion M. C. Mary Kom (51kg). As women’s boxing makes its debut in the Olympics, Mary will deservingly represent the country in London.

So the huge expectation from boxing this time is unprecedented. Everyone in the squad is aware of it and looks forward to fulfilling the wishes of the fans. “All the boxers are totally fit, both physically and mentally. They can do wonders,” assured Jaydev Bisht, Sandhu’s long-time coaching companion.

Sandhu asserted, “Our boys have defeated world-class boxers. Each one of them can beat anybody. We hope to put up a better show than (what we did in) the previous Olympics. But first we have to maintain our performance (of one medal) and then look for more.”

Vijender, the path-breaker and the face of Indian boxing, threw light on the boxers’ preparedness. “Our preparation has been good. We have a bright chance. The recent 15-day training camp in Dublin was beneficial. Since Ireland and England have similar weather we have got a fair idea about the climate,” he said.

The 26-year-old also spoke about the cohesion in the group. “We support each other. When there is the need of tackling a situation prior to any fight we discuss among ourselves and find a solution. However, if there is any special tip (for the Olympics) I will keep it to myself,” added Vijender, in a lighter vein.

Vijender Singh still remains India’s best hope for a medal in the boxing ring.-PTI

The whole unit functions like a well-oiled machine. Every detail is planned and written down, months in advance.

The coaches, including Cuban B. I. Fernandez, have left nothing to chance. The team reached London early so that the boxers could get adequate time to adjust to the cold climate there. “Here it is too hot. Recovery will be faster in the colder climate, hence the boxers can train well over there,” said physiotherapist Hari Shankar Varma before departing. “Now, we are handling each boxer very carefully. Every niggle, every problem is being addressed immediately.”

Four other pugilists have been asked to accompany the team so that the boxers get enough scope for sparring. In contrast, Mary Kom is pursuing a lone journey. After training in Pune for a few weeks under the watchful eyes of British coach Charles Atkinson her destination was Liverpool for final preparations.

Atkinson has arranged training partners for Mary there. Despite her extensive international exposure, Mary has been caught up in a web of anxiety. She has learnt that a large part of the pressure leading up to the Olympics originates from others’ expectations.

“If I get a lot of stress, I cannot focus on my training. I am trying to forget all this,” she quipped. As for life inside the ring the 29-year-old knows all about the surprises it can spring. “Anyone can win, anyone can lose. It can be so close. I will do my best in the ring,” she said.

So will every other Indian boxer. The ExCeL Centre in London may perhaps witness the coming of age of Indian boxing.