Shiva banks on improved strength in Rio Olympics

He remains the youngest boxer in India’s Olympic contingent even four years after his debut at the big event, but what has changed drastically for Shiva Thapa are "strength, endurance and maturity".

Shiva Thapa, 22, is currently World No. 6 in the International Boxing Association rankings.   -  PTI

He remains the youngest boxer in India’s Olympic contingent even four years after his debut at the big event, but what has changed drastically for Shiva Thapa are “strength, endurance and maturity”. He is one of the top medal contenders in Rio.

All of 22, the boy from Assam is currently World No. 6 in the International Boxing Association (AIBA) rankings and is only the third Indian boxer ever to have won a World Championships medal (a bronze in 2015 Doha). Add to that, he is a two-time Asian Championships medallist (gold in 2013 and bronze in 2015). He was the first boxer to qualify from the country for Rio after winning a silver at the continental qualifiers in March.

Shiva was barely 18 when he qualified for the 2012 Olympics, which was a forgettable campaign that ended in an opening-round loss. But four years later, he is seen as a medal hope in the bantamweight (56 kg), having delivered good results in the past three years.

Speaking about his journey so far, Shiva recalled how he had wanted to compete in the Olympics as a sub-junior when he saw the likes of Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar take Indian boxing to new heights leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

"Time flies, isn’t it? I feel London was just yesterday. I remember I had even thought of competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I used to calculate whether I would be eligible for it because I was still a sub-junior at that time,” recalled the Guwahati-based boxer.

That dream was realised four years after Beijing when he made the cut for London. Considered the “baby” of the eight-member team that went to London, Shiva, a former Youth Olympics silver medallist, has now metamorphosed into a confident contender. And although a sporting family backed him to the hilt in the pursuit of his dreams, it was not entirely a smooth passage.

“In Guwahati where I am based, I grew up in a neighbourhood which was infamous for street fights. Autos and rickshaws would refuse to go there as they were scared of being beaten up by local gangs. There were gang leaders and even kids of my age used to get involved in all this,” he revealed.

But he managed to keep his focus on sports thanks to his father Padam Thapa, a karate instructor who was also Shiva's coach in his formative years. He eventually moved to the Army Sports Institute in Pune before NIS Patiala became his second home as it was for all other top Indian boxers.

“I tried everything from football to gymnastics to athletics before I found my natural calling in boxing. I love this sport but had I not been a boxer, I would have been a footballer,” he added.

At present, long-time national assistant coach C. Kuttappa is the man he is most closely associated with as far as training is concerned. Kuttappa, who was the personal trainer of India’s first Olympic medallist in boxing, Vijender Singh, in 2008, has been handling Shiva’s training since 2013.

“He is strict no doubt but then I feel very comfortable with him. He pushes me hard but at the same time, he is very caring,” Shiva said.

Speaking of his association with Shiva and the transformation he has seen in him, Kuttappa said: “I have been observing him since he was a sub-junior. From London to Rio, the one thing that has improved immensely in him is his strength. Even if the intensity of his hitting is not that high, he ends up striking hard because of his strength.”