In 2004, when he first made the Olympics, Akhil Kumar was an ebullient 22-year-old who was seeking fame and fortune by throwing punches.
<b1>He was quick on his feet, quick to duck and quick to… well, he didn’t know how to retreat till then, a tool that kept him afloat on Friday when he beat world bantamweight champion Sergey Vodopyanov to enter the Olympics quarters and get within striking distance of a medal.
For Kumar, it was redemption. "Forget the Olympics, a year ago I was not sure whether I would even be in the Nationals," said the boxer from Bhiwani. He was on the brink of exiting the sport after suffering from a career-threatening wrist injury. Kumar was always focused on boxing. Not because it was what he knew best, but because it earned him his bread.
"Last year was scary," he said. "If not for [physio] Heath Mathews and my coaches, I would have been working on some railway station. On Independence Day, I couldn’t have done more for India." During the crisis, the Mittal Champions Trust lent him a hand. They took care of the medical bills and his rehabilitation programme.
"He is a fighter and a fighter has to stave off any danger," said Mathews.