“Haan ma, main theek hoon (Mom, I’m fine),” is all Vijender Kumar (22) said softly, thrice, as his mother called on the night of his coming-out party in China.
“Hosting the Games largely cured the Chinese of their strong sense of inferiority and helped them be confident of themselves and of the nation,” Olympics expert Xu Guoji, author of Olympic Dreams: China and sports, 1895-2008, told HT from Michigan, USA.
Likewise, three low-profile Indian sports ended the Games with new confidence from a medal each.
The strain of the hard-earned boxing bronze was evident at the dinner hosted by an Indian restaurant. “These scars will go in two weeks,” Vijender said in a mellow mood as he picked at roti and aloo palak.
“The injuries don’t hurt,” said Vijender, pointing to the bruises on his cheeks. “But I felt bad that I could not win. I never think small,” he mumbled. “I think big… that’s how I dealt with the challenges we faced to get this far.”
Akhil Kumar (27), who missed out on a medal, ate in a dark corner facing the wall, often alone. “The tension was too much for too long. It hurts to have come this far and lost,” said Akhil. “But I can’t quit boxing. Unless I hit punches daily, I can’t sleep at night.”
Cuban coach B.I. Fernandes kept clenching his fists reflexively. “This Olympics tested my heart,” he said, speaking of the “unimaginable” stress the boxers went through.
Both boxers are unprepared to be household names at home. “How come my phone keeps ringing?” asked Vijender, in genuine surprise. “This Olympics is the first event at which people outside my team talked to me,” said Akhil. “Koi baat bhi nahin karta tha (nobody would even talk to me).”
As it neared 11 pm, weary teammates urged Vijender to get back on the waiting bus. Nobody had slept well for weeks. But the boxer rebelled. Vijender would not leave before polishing off a plate of gulab jamuns.