I owe everything to my coach,” Suranjoy Singh, who won the Asian Boxing Championship gold medal for India after 15 years in 2009, told reporters. Eleven years ago, a champion boxer had said almost the same words: Dingko Singh who won the Asian Games gold for India after 16 years in 1998, had said, “I have learnt everything from my coach in Imphal.”
Their coach L Ibomcha Singh is a mentor, artist and rebel, all rolled into one. “I consider myself an artist because I create boxers of ordinary men,” he says shyly.
No matter how good a coach he is, Ibomcha knows he can never outshine his wards. “This is the predicament a coach has to live with,” he says. Yet, with the patience of a hermit (you can not produce champions everyday) he waits for one of his wards to succeed and jubilates like a child when it happens. “After coaching for more than 25 years, you tend to enjoy all those moments,” he says placidly.
His wards say he’s no placid man. “He can box you on your face if you don’t listen to him,” Dingko used to say. “Woh mar dalega agar kuch galti hua to.”
Though he’s produced some of India’s finest boxers, Ibomcha is yet to receive official recognition. So far his hard work has yielded only champions and nothing more. He still commutes on a scooter. Sips tea and eats biscuits and an odd banana during breaks. Gatorade and energy drinks? What’s that?
The national Dronacharya Award for coaching has not come his way either. It irks Ibomcha a lot. “I am not asking for money or land. I am just asking for recognition,” he says. Nowadays he sends his own recommendation from the state. “I have even taken up my case with the sports minister (MS Gill),” he reveals. He doesn’t trust the boxing federation, which he says has never forwarded his case. “What else can I do?” he asks. “Mera nomination har time gayab kar deta hai (They make my nomination vanish). This time I have sent it through registered post.”
He had almost quit coaching in depression at this situation. His students wouldn’t allow it. What he calls the worst moment of his life came from one of his famous students, though. After an argument with her coach, world women’s boxing champ Mary Kom burst out before the media saying “I don’t know Ibomcha”.
All that’s over, though. He may not have the Dronacharya Award, but to his students, he is the greatest guru.