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Battling it out inside the ‘ring of fire’

The Indian boxing team is aiming for nothing less than a gold medal, reports Indraneel Das.

other Updated: Sep 18, 2010 23:43 IST
Indraneel Das
Indraneel Das
Hindustan Times

A Brief history

Beg, borrow and steal the thunder!

That's the story of Indian boxing since the sport touched its nadir at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. They had to beg fans and followers to keep their faith alive, and then borrow to keep the sport alive and finally, in two years' time, they managed to steal the thunder. That's been the story in the last six years since boxing as a sport was first dissected, examined part by part and was thrown out to rot.

Indian boxing's is perhaps one of the most fascinating stories of a great revival in sport. Perhaps, the sport needed the 2004 Olympics to usher in change in a system that was languishing in the dark alleys of obscure old rules and obsolete tradition.

The rules in boxing had changed, but the mindset in India had not. Coaches and officials were reluctant to introduce changes. While the world relied on straight punches, the Indians loved their hooks and uppercuts forgetting that what matters were points and not jingoism.

The Indian Boxing Federation, aided by able and astute officials, huddled together after the debacle and decided to bring in change. New coaching methods were introduced that percolated to the grassroots. Straight punches were the order of the day. “We had to change then and there,” recollects PK Muralidharan Raja, the secretary of the Indian Boxing Federation, one of the pioneers who introduced new technique and method to the sport.

By then, however, the federation’s coffers were empty. At times, before the Olympics in Beijing, it had to borrow from banks to send teams abroad for training and participation in international meets.

The revival

Then came Melbourne. The 2006 Commonwealth Games sparked the revival. That was all it needed -- a small spark to light the fire in the belly and passion in the heart. Indian boxing never looked back. Boxing touched its zenith when in the Beijing Olympics two years ago, first Akhil Kumar beat the reigning world and Olympic champion, Sergie Vodopyanov and then Vijender Singh created history by winning a medal at the Games.

From being also-rans, India became a team, which the world started to fear. Now there are video footages of almost all our boxers with the opponents.

In these Games, the boxing arena perhaps will evoke a kind of anticipation that was never expected before. It's in the precincts of the newly-built Talkatora Indoor Stadium, where some of the best boxers of the country will step inside the ring to showcase India's strength and better Melbourne in medal haul of one gold (Akhil), two silver (Vijender and Harpreet Singh) and two bronze (Jitender and V Johnson).

The game

Nothing but gold. High on confidence, at least that’s what the boxers are thinking of right now.

As Olympic and world bronze-medallist Vijender Singh pounds the bag, 100 punches a second, in the swanky newly-built hall in Patiala, there’s just one image that’s been floating in his mind. A gold at the Commonwealth Games.

“I have to win the No. 1 spot,” says Vijender.

In another corner, Akhil Kumar is skipping merrily with a vacant gaze on the wall opposite him. He has been struggling with injuries since the Olympics in 2008, but his heart, is pounding in anticipation of the Games. “Nothing but a gold will I fight for,” he says.

Asian Championships gold-medallist Suranjoy Singh, the diminutive Manipuri, is swaying from one side to the other as he goes through his shadow boxing rituals. Dinesh, Paramjit Samota and Jai Bhagwan, who won gold at the Commonwealth Championships held earlier this year, is not looking anywhere beyond the yellow metal.

Scars all over their faces, accumulated over the years, remind them of the pain they have endured, of the intense hard work they have dedicated to something they call life. In October, it’s the ring they are looking to set on fire. But the national coach, GS Sandhu always keeps his fingers crossed.

“Hope we will live up to the expectation,” he says ducking like a good boxer the question of how many medals India will win.

The challenge

However, like in every good script, victory is not so sweet if it comes without a fight. England are training keeping the 2012 London Olympics in mind. Investing in youth and experience, they perhaps have the strongest contingent at the Delhi Games so far. Akhil Kumar has already tasted their might when a 19-year-old Ian Weaver sent him packing during the Commonwealth Championships. Callum Smith, the England champion in welterweight (69kg) is another boxer who can beat the best on his day. Then there are boxers from Mauritius, Pakistan and Africa who are capable of springing a surprise or two.

Whatever it is, Indians are not going to go down without a fight.

The stage is set and all we are waiting for is the sound of the bell to let the game begin.

First Published: Sep 18, 2010 23:40 IST