Making it to the Olympics may be tough but reaching the place where Olympians are groomed, the Bhiwani Boxing Club, is tougher still.
The road to Beijing begins as a flooded dirt track in a faraway corner of Bhiwani’s Sector 13. Hemmed in by farmlands and houses, the entrance to Olympian Akhil Kumar’s coaching centre is a potentially killer road.
“During monsoon, snakes often wade in. You have to be careful, very careful,” says Satinder Singh, a starry-eyed young combatant.
It’s a wonder how the club has produced four Olympians. It has just one boxing ring, where the Fab Four — Vijender, Jitender, Akhil and Dinesh — would often await their turn to practice.
The appalling lack of facilities — not talent — is why developing Olympic champions here have frequently ended up as also-rans.
India’s Olympians come from possibly one of the smallest coaching centres in the world. “Where else would you find an Olympic coaching centre with no fees,” says Karnal Singh, its president.
The club runs out of a tin shed, which turns the place into a blast furnace during Haryana’s scorching summers. There are no treadmills, no fans. Shockingly, there’s not even a water pipeline. Boxers dutifully lug gallons of potable water each morning.
Other than five punching bags, a boxing ring and some weight-training equipment, there’s nothing else. Yet, in the main practice arena, the size of a dining hall, silent words of encouragement on walls are actually screaming slogans for young boxers: “No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory.”
It’s the love of boxing that has kept the fires of an Olympic medal burning. “It won’t end until we win a gold. Whenever,” says a feisty Dilbagh Singh, who failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.