To be the country’s flag-bearer at the Olympics is an honour bestowed upon the most elite of athletes. A certain Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore did the honours at the opening ceremony, but it was Vijender Kumar, the Beijing Games bronze medallist, who proudly led the Indian contingent, Tricolour in hand as curtains came down on the 29th Olympics. The Bhiwani boxer, just before boarding the flight to India on Monday, spoke at length to HT about his achievement and how it would change his life, forever.
Whom do you want to dedicate your Olympic medal?
To my parents, friends, the entire boxing fraternity and to everyone who whished for my success…this medal belongs to every Indian. This is a medal of one billion Indians.
What sense of pride did you feel when you held the Tricolour at the closing ceremony?
To be the country’s flag-bearer is an honour for every sportsperson. When I first competed in an international Games — the 2003 Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad — I dreamt of becoming India’s flag-bearer one day. I’m happy I got the honour at the world’s biggest sporting show.
What ran through your mind before you boarded the flight to Beijing?
For the last couple of years, I had always thought about a medal at the Beijing Games. The only thing I was wishing before boarding the flight to Beijing was to get a first-round bye in the draws, as competition in my weight category was starting the day after the opening ceremony. I wanted to attend the ceremony and I could only do that if I got the bye. But on August 8, all those thoughts were pushed aside and I started preparing for my inaugural bout.
Are you satisfied with bronze?
No way. But for the time being, yes. Winning a bronze at the Olympics is not a small thing. My aim is to win gold at the London Games in 2012. It was in London in 1948, that Indian boxing first competed at the Olympics. And now, after 60 years, India will win its first ever gold in boxing at London. The way we all performed at Beijing, it won’t be a surprise if we win more than one gold at the 2012 Games.
You were the only Beijing-bound boxer who was without a sponsor. Did it hamper your preparations for the Olympics?
Akhil, Jitender and Dinesh are with the Mittal Champions Trust and Samsung supports A.S. Lakra. I should have got a sponsor, but not having one didn’t hamper my preparations. The Haryana government gave me Rs 1 lakh along with the Bhim Award and the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation helped me with all my requirements. Now, I hope I will get a sponsor for the London Games.
What was your first reaction when you checked into the Games Village?
The time I entered the Village, I prayed, ‘God help me in realising my dream’.
And when you left the Village for India?
I thanked God for everything I accomplished in Beijing. In my entire life, I will never forget Beijing and will always be thankful to the people there. I got everything I wished for — Olympic medal, name, fame and the world’s acknowledgement.
Were you under pressure in the pre-quarterfinal bout against the Thai boxer as he had beaten you earlier this year?
Yes, I had lost to him in the President’s Cup semi-finals. I kept reminding myself that the referees and judges had cheated me then. At that time too, I was a better boxer, and by beating him in Beijing, I showed everyone that I was right.
You are now an Olympic medallist. Did you dream in your wildest fantasies that you would get this much media attention in India?
I never imagined I would get such a huge response from the media and respect from every quarter, including the country’s top dignitaries.
What about your modelling career and other endorsements?
I was always interested in modelling and I did profiles for three magazines. I am getting many offers now including one from a top tyre manufacturing company. Besides, I’ve got offers from an automobile company and a soft-drink giant. In fact, I have got some offers from Bollywood too.
So, now would your main focus be on modelling?
Earlier also, I was the same Vijender — the same height and looks. But I didn’t get many offers. So, it’s obvious that I am a boxer at the end of the day and it’s my achievements in the ring that are getting me offers. My real recognition is only because of boxing and I want to keep that intact. I will do some modelling and advertisement assignments but only for a short while. After that, it’ll be back to the ring.
Before going to the Olympics, you said you wanted to go on a date with Bipasha Basu. So did you get a call from her?
No, I didn’t get a call. But she did call up fellow boxer Akhil and gave him a congratulatory message for me.
What are you going to do with all the hefty cash awards you’d be getting?
I am planning to buy a flat. For rest of the things, I need time to think and discuss with my family and friends.
Your future plans?
After a short break, I will resume practising. My next target is the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in Guangzhou…and the ultimate target — to win gold at the 2012 London Games.