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After Asian boxing glory, Pooja Rani eyes 75kg shift for Tokyo berth

Pooja was in the spotlight as the only Indian woman to win gold in the competition. Her family members and friends from Bhiwani were at the New Delhi airport to make it a special homecoming for her.

other sports Updated: Apr 29, 2019 00:38 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pooja Rani,Asian Championships,Boxing
India's Pooja Rani (81kg) poses for photos after securing a gold medal.(PTI)

Pooja Rani says she is living a dream. On Sunday, the Indian boxing contingent returned home to a grand welcome after a grand campaign at the Asian Championships in Bangkok where the country won 13 medals, including two gold.

Pooja was in the spotlight as the only Indian woman to win gold in the competition. Her family members and friends from Bhiwani were at the New Delhi airport to make it a special homecoming for her.

“It was such a warm welcome. My family members, people from my village, were at the airport dancing to dhols,” said Pooja.

The round of celebration has just begun for the 28-year-old Haryana boxer. A series of functions are lined up in Bhiwani, where she started her boxing career, and her village, Neemriwali. It will be some turnaround for Pooja, who took up the bruising sport against the wishes of her father. It took her six months of pleading, with her coaches joining in, for her father to relent.

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Pooja still can’t believe she beat Chinese world champion Wang Lina in the final. She said watching the video of her opponent’s matches before the title bout had left her apprehensive. Lina’s counter-attacks were lightning fast.

“I saw in the video how she was beating up her opponents with fast counters. I was like ‘if I step in, I will meet with the same treatment’. So, the strategy was not to be too aggressive but attack with caution seeing the right opportunity, to avoid her counters.”

Pooja, who had won silver in 2012, executed her plan to a nicety. “Till the time the bout started, I did not believe I can win. I just wanted to give my best. Once the bout started, I felt I had a chance. When I hit a few punches, she was a bit shaken.”

Lina had won the 81kg title at the World Championships in New Delhi last November. Pooja was not selected and it made her feel terrible.

“I know I was a better boxer in 81kg, but there was no selection trial. The girl (Bhagyabati Kachari) who was selected had won gold in an invitational tournament in Turkey. I was sent to another tournament in Poland, which was tougher and I won bronze.

“I was shattered and could not pick up my gloves for 15 days. I felt really bad because I wanted to compete at home,” said Pooja.

However, she bounced back from the setback, winning the national title, and beating Bhagyabati on the way. That made her the first choice for the Asian Championships.

“I wanted to prove that I am the best in this category and I am happy I could do that with a gold medal.”

TARGET TOKYO

The six-time national champion now has her eyes fixed at the Tokyo Olympics. But for that she will have to go back to her original weight category of 75kg because 81kg is not in the Olympics.

However, five of her six national titles have come in 75kg. She will aim to make amends after failing to qualifying for the Rio Olympics.

“I shifted to 81kg only recently. This was my first competition. I had put on weight because of my shoulder injury. My weight is around 77kg, so I won’t face any problem shifting back. I will decide after talking to the coaches.”

The competition will be tougher, but Pooja is ready. “The gold medal has given me confidence and I feel I can qualify for Tokyo.”

The other wish of Pooja though is likely to be fulfilled first – getting the Arjuna Award. “There is only one woman boxer from Haryana — Kavita Chahal — who has won Arjuna. I always wanted to win the honour, and hopefully after this medal, my dream will come true.”

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 00:38 IST