'Vijender is a winner'

Vijender Singh’s father, Mahipal Singh, wants life to go on as usual for his son and his family despite the glory and fame.

Jagdish Singh… the man behind the Bhiwani Boxing Club. Vijender Singh is one of the illustrious students of the club.   -  Sandeep Saxena

What used to be an alluring means of livelihood in Bhiwani, a small town in Haryana, has turned out to be the cause of national glory. After Vijender Singh’s Olympic bronze medal-winning effort, many of the poor young men, who enter the boxing ring in order to get a job in the Army, can now afford to dream bigger.

The quest for a better life led Vijender and his elder brother, Manoj Kumar, to boxing in their teens. A few years later, Manoj succeeded in his mission of getting into the Army thanks to his boxing credentials. He then became determined to support his brother.

> Vijender Singh: Player Profile

“After Raj Kumar Sangwan got the Arjuna Award for boxing (in the late 1990s), a craze for the sport increased. Coming from a poor family, it was one of the main avenues to get a job. When we started in 1996, Vijender was in Class V and he joined the Sports Authority of India centre. He has been fortunate to train under one coach from the beginning as Jagdish Singh was then coaching the sub-juniors,” recalled Manoj.

“My father is a driver (Haryana Transport) and at that time he did not have enough funds to provide us good facilities. Both of us used to go for boxing on one cycle and even shared a pair of gloves. But things changed after I joined the Army in 1998,” he said.

Haryana has been a treasure house of boxers and a state-level winner here is considered to be a runaway favourite for a gold medal in the Nationals. In Bhiwani alone some 700 boxers train in various government and private academies.

Vijender won his first state championship in the sub-junior category in 1997 and went on to bag his maiden gold medal at the 2000 Nationals. The turning point, however, came in the Afro-Asian Games in 2003. Despite being a junior boxer, Vijender took part in the selection trials and was picked for the meet where he fought valiantly to win a silver medal.

“The Haryana Government awarded him Rs. seven lakh for his achievement and he never looked back after that. He has won medals in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and now the Olympics,” Manoj said.

Vijender’s house at Kaluwas village, on the outskirts of Bhiwani, wears a festive look these days. Big shots, the media and well-wishers throng this new hot spot everyday. The local administration has built a new road to Vijender’s house following his achievement in the Olympics. Not to be left behind, a few corporate houses have taken the opportunity to gain some publicity by putting up their banners in the temporary tent erected for the guests.

“You don’t see such celebrations even in a marriage. We have been endlessly attending to guests and the media and have not even slept properly for the last four to five days,” said Krishna, the proud mother of Vijender.

Vijender’s father, Mahipal, was overwhelmed by joy. “This is the second occasion I am feeling the honour of being Vijender’s father. When he got the Arjuna Award, I had been to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. That was a great moment in my life and so is this,” he said.

“After Bindra won the gold medal, I always thought may the Almighty help Vijender achieve the same glory. Thank god, it has happened,” Vijender’s father added.

Mahipal, however, didn’t feel let down by Vijender’s loss to Emilio Correa of Cuba in the semifinals. “He is a winner despite the defeat. He has done something which no Indian has ever done,” he said.

Mahipal, who has been asked by his employer, the Haryana Transport department, not to drive any vehicle any more and join duty at the bus yard, wants life to go on as usual for his son and his family despite the glory and fame. “Boxing has given him so much, he should not leave it. Rather he should try to win the gold next time. I also feel the same for me, I am ready to go on with life and drive vehicles as I used to do,” he said.

Chasing a dream

Thanks to his determination to produce world champions using his own methods, Jagdish Singh was able to overcome all hurdles and become successful in his mission. He never cared for his critics — in fact, he doesn’t care to know their opinion about him even now.

Basking in the glory of his ward, Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh, Jagdish, who started the Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC) in 2003 with bare minimum facilities, is now planning to renovate the club. He wants to turn it into a world-class complex and produce more Olympic and World champions.

“I have fought against the system, my detractors, land mafia and other vested interests to come this far. I believe that athletes who have the hunger for success can be nurtured into world champions with proper training,” Jagdish said.

From 40 students to 120, including 15 girls — the number of trainees at BBC, which imparts “free” coaching, has increased appreciably in five years. Jagdish, who is also a Sports Authority of India coach, claims that he has produced 161 medallists at the international level and 312 medal winners at the National level.

The club has only one ring and a few punching kits besides some training equipment. Even with such meagre facilities, BBC has managed to produce some good boxers. Three out of the four pugilists who represented India in the Athens Olympics and four out of the five boxers in the Beijing Games belong to the Bhiwani club.

What are the criteria for admission to the club?

“It’s purely on the basis of talent. Basically, I look for students from lower middle-class families. I believe, being deprived, they have the spirit to excel in life, they can go through the hardships to succeed in their mission,” Jagdish said.

But how does Jagdish handle so many students all alone?

“Some senior boxers assist me. Besides, athletics coach Jagdish Prasad takes care of the fitness part of the training. We maintain a flexible schedule."

Now that Vijender has brought glory to the club, Jagdish wants to make it even bigger. “I know this is not the infrastructure with which Olympic gold winning boxers can be produced. There is this five to 10 per cent difference between winning a bronze and a gold.

“I want to have all the modern facilities, latest technical support, the help of a nutritionist, a library and CDs of all top boxers and the development of boxing. All this requires a lot of money. Recognition has started coming and I hope I will get some aid to build my dream centre.

“All the difficulties are coming to an end and I can see a new chapter waiting to open,” said Jagdish, who has been chosen for the Dronacharya Award.

When asked who has been his best student so far, Jagdish replied: “All those who have done well in the Olympics are good boxers.” He was, obviously, referring to Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar and Vijender Singh.

Does he expect bigger glory from his wards in the London Olympics in 2012? “The performance should improve. There should definitely be a gold medal,” said Jagdish.

(This article was originally published in the Sportstar issue dated August 30, 2008)