Boxing has been a mainstay of the Summer Olympics since the 1904 St. Louis Games, with the exception being during the 1912 Stockholm Games, where Swedish law banned the sport. Despite being a major sport that offers multiple medals at the mega-event, it was only men’s boxing that was part of the Games till the 2012 London Games.
For the first time in 2012, three weight categories for women were included, apart from the 10 in men’s boxing, with a total of 13 medals on offer. The upcoming Tokyo Olympics, however, will feature competitions in eight weight categories in the men’s section, while women will fight for medals in five divisions.
A record nine Indian boxers have qualified for Tokyo, even though the aim was to send each across 13 categories, but the cancelation of the final World Olympic Qualifiers put paid to such aspirations. Historically, India have had regular participants in boxing at the Olympics, but none of them managed to get past the quarter-final hurdle and ensure a medal, until 2008, that is, when Vijender Singh finally broke the jinx.
With the 2021 Tokyo Olympics approaching, let us have a look at the most successful Indian boxers at the Games:
Vijender Singh (Bronze Medal, Men's Middleweight) - 2008 Beijing Games
Vijender Singh’s trophy-laden career’s early days can be traced back to the village of Kaluwas, in Haryana, where his father, a bus driver, drove extra hours to make ends meet. It was following in the footsteps of his brother Manoj that Vijender took up boxing to support his family financially and the rest is history.
Having climbed the ranks steadily, he qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympics. But his campaign in the welterweight division was cut short in the very first round by Turkey’s Mustafa Karagollu, who won their bout 25-20. Perhaps that was the reality check Vijender needed, as he staged a comeback with medal-winning performances at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and Doha Asiad – where he moved up a weight and competed as a middleweight (75 kg). All roads were leading to Beijing, with a maiden Olympic medal for the country in boxing on the cards.
At Beijing, Vijendar had it easy in the early rounds. He ousted his Gambian opponent Badou Jack with a score of 13-2, and followed it up with a thumping of Angkhan Chomphuphuang (of Thailand) 13-3 to reach the quarter-finals. Even in the last-eight clash against Ecuador’s Carlos Gongora, Vijender overcame the South American without much resistance.
Next up in the semi-final was Emilio Correa, and the Cuban was never going to be an easy competitor. He ended Vijender’s hopes with an 8-5 points verdict. The Indian’s dream run at the Olympics had ended, but not before claiming a historic bronze medal. His exploits would go on to inspire many Indian youngsters to take up the sport.
Mary Kom (Bronze, Women's 51kg) - 2012 London Games
MC Mary Kom’s story has been one of the most inspiring in the history of Indian sports, not only because of the hurdles she had to overcome to reach the stage, but also the way she dominated the sport. By the time she featured in the 2012 London Olympics, she was already a five-time World Champion. And she was India’s brightest medal prospect in London.
Mary Kom was India’s only entrant in women’s boxing, which was making its debut at the Games. From the 46 kg and 48 kg categories, where she had made her mark, Mary Kom was forced to move up to the 51 kg category, which was the lowest weight division in London.
The flyweight category featured just 16 boxers, and Mary Kom edged past Poland’s Karolina Michalczuk in the first round with a score of 19-14. She subsequently defeated Maroua Rahali of Tunisia 16-5 in the quarter-finals to assure India a medal.
Up against local Nicola Adams, the Indian succumbed to a 6-11 defeat. But, the achievement was historic – a bronze medal, with the Manipuri pugilist becoming an overnight sensation in India. With her still going strong and also qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, we can expect another medal in a few months’ time.