Manoj Kumar was a worried man before the Indian squad was announced for the World Cup. Not because he hadn't done well in the trials, but for the reason that he had been ignored a couple of times despite emerging the best in the tryouts.
Nevertheless, the 64-kg category pugilist had made the most of the chances that came his way, and proved that selectors were perhaps wrong in keeping him out. On Tuesday, the boxer proved his worth yet again when he defeated Asian Games silver medalist Hu Qing of China 17-15 in the pre-quarterfinals of the World Championship in Baku. With this win, he not only cruised into the quarters, but, more significantly, also won a quota place for the 2012 London Olympics.
"Everything was at stake for me in the world championship. If I had failed to qualify here, it would have become really tough," said the pugilist from Baku. "I knew this was my only chance and hence went all out to win the bout. Although I was trailing in the first two rounds by three points, I didn't lose focus and eventually my hard work paid off. Now I will aim for a podium finish in the Olympics," he said.
Along with Manoj, debutant L Devendro Singh (49kg), who defeated seventh seeded Carlos Quipo of Ecuador 18-12, too earned an Olympic berth. Also making the cut are Jai Bhagwan and Vikas Krishan. Jai Bhagwan defeated David Joyce of Ireland 32-30 while Krishan beat Sipal Onder (Turkey) 14-7.
Manipur's Devendro, who outclassed seasoned boxers like Amandeep Singh and Nanao Singh to force his way into the Indian squad, lived up to his reputation of a giant killer, defeating Pan American Games gold medallist Carlos.
"I have no words to express my joy. I was under pressure ahead of the championship, but my fear vanished once I won the opening bout. As for today's bout, I was oozing with confidence as I entered the ring, though I was up against an opponent seeded as high as seventh," Devendro said.
"Manoj and Devendro punched above their weight and displayed superb game. Devendro impressed one and all by upstaging a more fancied opponent and achieving the Olympic qualifying mark in his first appearance at the senior level. Manoj, on the other hand, stunned everyone by rallying from three points down to win a thrilling contest. We have achieved our first target - Olympic qualification - and now will focus on the medals," said chief national coach GS Sandhu.