Straddling the diverse emotions of agony and ecstasy, Vijender Singh stood. And cried. On Friday even as he sealed a medal for India, a first, Vijender was struggling to live down the fact that the bronze wouldn’t be upgraded to silver or more. Being happy and sad at the same time sure is a peculiar moment.
The moment he stepped into the ring, Vijender knew what he was up against.
Better reach and a combination of quick jabs and straights always give a boxer the edge. Emilio Correa Bayeaux of Cuba was one bestowed with both these qualities. Nevertheless, Vijender battled gamely withstanding a barrage without flinching.
The first round was a warm-up for both. Vijender tried keeping Bayeaux at a safe distance with his open-fist left jabs but the Cuban was up for the challenge. By the second minute, Bayeaux had managed to jab Vijender’s side. As the Indian tried to counter with a combination of hooks and uppercuts, the Cuban seeing an opening in front scored with couple of straights.
Both fighters had their moments in the second. As maaro Vijender, maaro chants started to echo in the Workers’ Stadium, Vijender tried to attack with some low straights on to Bayeaux’s body. The strategy fetched him three points but the round closed at 4-3 in the Cuban’s favour.
The third round was decisive for Bayeaux. In defence and straight punches lie the beauty of amateur boxing. Vijender, who was trying his best to close in the gap, went all out in the dying seconds.
Bayeaux’s hands were acting like pistons. Thump-thump and back. It was like lightning. Just before the bell, Vijender dropped his guard for the most fleeting of moments. Thud came Bayeaux’s punch straight on his face. As the bell rang, Vijender returned to his corner, shaking his head. He knew it was an opportunity lost. He was trailing 3-7 now.
“I knew he would try to destabilise me with his quick jabs,” said Vijender after losing 5-8. “I am not over yet. Wait till the next Olympics. I am going to work harder and will be more determined when I represent the country in London.”
“I have tried my best but I guess the Cuban played very well,” he said.
But he knows what this bronze would mean to billions back home. “This has shown that even Indians can win medals at the Olympics. Forget about boxing or wrestling or shooting. Now we can even dream of winning a medal in every discipline under the sky,” he said.
“The boxers have been excellent throughout,” said national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu. “Not just Vijender, it’s a victory for everyone here and those associated with the sport back home,” Sandhu said. “We should not forget the contributions made by our support staff who are not here and by our boys (sparring partners).”
When Vijender steps on to the podium on Saturday, he would hope he has sparked a revolution. He will also know how responsibly he would have to work for the future of Indian boxing.