In sport, as in life, there is no second chance. Whatever you do, no matter how hard you try, you can never undo.
Akhil Kumar knew it the moment he stepped out of the ring, vanquished. He had given it his best, but the points never reflected on the board. Maybe, despite fighting bravely and perhaps, better, than Moldova’s Gojan Veaceslav, he could not win in the bantamweight quarterfinal here on Monday because of fate.
Whatever the reason, he took it graciously.
“Har din ek nahin hota (all days are not the same),” he said with a smile after his bout. “We have to prepare ourselves for every possibility that a game might throw up. We can’t tread a thin rope thinking it won’t snap.”
“Haar to haar hai (a loss is a loss),” he said. “Whether you lose by one point or hundred doesn’t matter.”
While Akhil took the defeat in his stride, B.I. Fernandes, his Cuban coach, cried foul. Knowing Fernandes, he never complains nor gets easily excited. But today there must have been something that made him animated.
“We had three Russian referees. Everything else was on the TV screen,” he said in exasperation.
Akhil, one of the finest boxers India has ever produced, was dejected. A tear or two trickled from the corner of his eyes.
“Main kya karu? (What do I do?)” I tried my best. If I face him again, I will beat him,” said the Bhiwani boxer.
In the second round, perched on the stool in the blue corner, Akhil was left wondering what else he could have done to open up the Moldovan boxer. Till the second round both went neck-and-neck at 2-2. Akhil knew that if he had to win, he had to do something he is not used to doing. He taunted, he shed his defence. Kabaddi-style, he tried to provoke Veaceslav, but to no avail.
“In most fights, one gets to know who will win by the second round. I am used to fighting an open bout,” he said. “But today I even tried provoking him, but he was taking no chances.”
The third round made the difference. Going for the jugular, Akhil started attacking Veaceslav. With a compact defence — his face shielded with his fists — the Moldovan withstood a barrage of punches on his body. The white on Akhil’s gloves never managed to make a full impact on the Moldovan. But the worst part, the part where something seemed amiss, was the Moldovan’s counter punches that yielded points.
Coach Fernandes said, “I have no complaints that the judges have not given Akhil points. But even Veaceslav shouldn’t have got points. He did not play.”
If Veaceslav had come with a plan, he succeeded. Even without hitting a full-blooded punch he managed to beat Akhil. If the Indian had fortitude, Veaceslav had patience — a virtue weighed in gold in contact sport. By the time the third round ended, Akhil was down 2-6.
With nothing to lose, Akhil tried some low upper cuts. But Veaceslav’s hands never rattled. They stayed compact and straight. Even with low uppercuts and hooks Akhil was not being able to earn points, leaving him 3-10 behind at the bell.
“Theek hai (It’s okay). Life goes on. I never thought I would box last year. I never thought I would make it to the Olympics,” said Akhil. “I am a sportsperson and I know how to take defeat. If I can rejoice in victories, I must learn to take defeats. I have taken blows on my body, now I know how to endure this pain.”
Maybe, given a second chance, he could beat him. Maybe, with a little more support, he can win a gold. The ‘maybe’ will always haunt him.
He walked to physio Heath Mathews for another ice bath, to recover. He is only 27. He knows if he keeps fit and is professional about his career he might just get that second chance.