Somewhere in the stands, away from the spotlight, Som Bahadur Pun sat quietly, almost unnoticed. In 2002, after he won silver at the Manchester Commonwealth Games, the spotlight would follow him.
As fate would have it, eight years down the line, Pun is languishing in Shillong. He travels second class and just manages to lead a healthy life. His career was cut short by injuries and illness (he had tuberculosis and cysticercosis — tapeworm infection in the brain).
Despite his 2002 CWG performance and a string of national titles, he was never considered for the Arjuna Award. And that's been his greatest regret. “Kya kare, kismat hi aisa hai,” he says. “It's heartening to see that the sport has become so lucrative,” says Pun, who has come with the Arunachal Pradesh team as coach. “Boxing is still in my blood.”
All he dreams now is to set up a boxing academy. “Hopefully, I will be able to realise this dream.”
Age no bar
For pugilist S. Suresh Singh, winning bouts in the Nationals has been a ritual. So what if he has crossed 30 and some peers have switched to coaching. So what if he had thrown punches in the Sydney Olympics 10 years ago. His indefatigable will still eggs him on. Though he lost in the final to Chote Lal on Friday in the 56kg category, he thinks he still has it in him to do well on the big stage.
Even Olympic bronze-medallist Vijender Singh was in awe of Suresh's commitment. “He is amazing. To compete in the Nationals for the last 15 years in a sport like boxing is amazing,” said the man from Bhiwani.
Suresh started his career in light fly (48kg then) and now competes in bantam (56kg). He has won two National titles in both light fly and flyweight and one National title as well as three silver in bantam. Interestingly, for the last year or so, he has not been sparring either. “In Deoli (Rajasthan) where I am posted, I don't have good sparring partners,” said Suresh, who relies on shadow boxing and sand bags.
Problem of plenty
There's been a problem of plenty for the selectors here.
The competition was intense, punches flew with purpose and, till the final round no one knew who would triumph, especially in the lower weight categories. If former World Cadet champ Balbir's swift blows unsettled Commonwealth champ Suranjoy Singh in flyweight one day, Commonwealth champ Amandeep lost to Sunil in light fly the other day. Balbir also lost to Sanjay Singh (Railways).
The list goes on. For national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu, however, it's not a problem. He thinks it shows India's class. “In Cuba, the Olympic champions lose in the national championships; that shows their strength. Likewise in India, we too are seeing that in every weight category there are backups. No one in the national team can take anything for granted.”