New Delhi, Aug 18 – Four years ago, when Vijender Singh won India’s first Olympic boxing medal, the sport received a shot in the fist. No less than eight boxers, including a woman, qualified for the London Games and naturally the expectations soared.
There was a bronze medal this time, too, won by the lone woman M.C. Mary Kom. The men certainly have not disgraced themselves — and the promise they showed in London under pressure to deliver gives a big hope for the future.
Shiva Thapa (18), Devendro Singh (20), Sumit Sangwan (19), Vikas Krishan (20) — all have tremendous potential to make things happen in the ring at Rio de Janeiro four years down the road.
Many may have felt let down by the overall show by the men. But look at how close they came to winning a medal or looked good for one. The pluses clearly outweigh the setbacks.
Vijender, who won a bronze in Beijing, came within sniffing distance of another for back-to-back medals. Manoj Kumar and Jai Bhagwan also failed to punch above their weight, but they were not a washout.
Five-time World Champion, Mary Kom, delivered what was expected of her. The only concern was whether the 29-year-old, who shifted from 46 to 51 kg weight category, could cope with her bigger-sized opponents.
However, the mother of two, showed her grit and determination to march into the medal round. But in the semis, Britain’s Nicola Adams, the eventual gold medallist, proved to be more than a handful for her.
As for others, a jewel has been found in the form of Devendro. The 20-year-old Manipuri set the ExCel Arena alight with his quickfire punches. His boxing prowess was never in doubt after he thrashed Mexican Joselito Velazquez 40-19 at the 2011 World Championships. But by beating Beijing Games silver medallist Purevdorjiin Serdamba of Mongolia black and blue, he well and truly announced his arrival at the world stage.
In the quarters, the youngster was outsmarted rather than outboxed by Commonwealth Games gold medallist Paddy Barnes of Ireland. A bout away from the bronze, the Indian seemed to buckle under pressure, but not before giving the Irishman a run for his money.
The other boxers did not have the luck of the draw as they ran into tougher opponents or the judges were not too kind to them.
Sumit Sangwan blamed the judges for his ouster. The commentators of the bout between the Indian and Brazilian Yamaguchi Florentino Falcao dubbed the result as “daylight robbery”. Sumit went down 14-15 in his first round bout — but in the eyes of experts he was a clear winner.
Manoj (64 kg), too, was undone by the new scoring system as he felt he had the bout in the bag but surprisingly came out the loser. While the others have age on their side, Manoj will be 29 in 2016.
In Vikas’s case, he was announced the winner but the morning after the bout, the result was overturned by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) after an appeal by his US opponent.
It’s not only the young men who are expected to cause a stir in Rio. Mary Kom, who will turn 33 when the 2016 Olympics start, is more than likely to pass on the baton.
Silver-medallist at the 2012 Asian Championships Pooja Rani (75kg) could very well become the next Mary Kom of Indian boxing. Aged 23, Pooja narrowly missed out on securing a berth for the London Games but a lot would be expected from her in the coming years.
Pinky Jangra (51 kg), 22, is another young and promising boxer. She was the sole Indian pugilist who bagged the gold medal at the 2011 Arafura Games. Pinki was awarded with the ‘Best Boxer’ title for her fine performance in the tournament.
The National Games gold medallist beat Mary Kom in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Senior National Championship and shot to prominence.
Between now and Rio they will have to develop their skills and their jabs and punches must have more meat.
One waits and watches to see whether the boys can become men and hit hard for a medal.
(Santosh Rao can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)