Last year in May, the government of India introduced the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme with an objective to identify and financially aid medal winners for the 2016 and 2020 Games.
Manoj Kumar after beating England's Bradley Saunders to win gold at the 2010 CWG in New Delhi. Pic/AFP
Around 75 athletes were identified in the initial list, of which eight were boxers. However, Manoj Kumar was a surprise exclusion from that list despite having won a gold medal at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and a pre-quarter finish at the 2012 London Olympics.
Last week, Manoj won his quarter-final in 64kg at the AIBA Olympic qualifier in Baku, Azerbaijan, to become the third Indian pugilist, after Shiva Thapa (56kg) and Vikas Krishan (75 kg) to qualify for the Rio Games. And immediately, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) included him in the TOP scheme.
However, while both Shiva and Vikas were part of the TOP scheme at the outset, Manoj was left to fight his own battle of qualifying for Rio, when Olympic Gold Quest, a private NGO that supports India's potential medal winners at Olympics, withdrew their support last July. "This tournament (Baku) was just like the CWG for me.
On both occasions, I was under pressure to prove myself without any financial assistance. My career would have come to a halt if I had failed. My career would have ended had i not qualified for Rio," Manoj told mid-day from Azerbaijan yesterday.
Now, thanks to his TOP inclusion, Manoj will experience his maiden overseas training session — a 15-day camp in England next month.
"My journey has been full of ups and downs because I am not a diplomatic person, and neither do I have a godfather in politics. There are many sportspersons in Haryana, who are holding top positions like DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) and SP (Superintendent of Police) despite achieving very little, while I am still a Class III employee of the Northern Railway. But I'm glad I was able to prove myself against all odds.
'Will give off my best'
"Qualifying for Rio was a huge milestone. Next, I want to win a medal for my country. I will give my best at Rio," said Manoj, who likes to be referred to as Maratha, given his admiration for the great Maratha warrior Shivaji.
Manoj's coach and mentor Rajesh, who is also his elder brother, said the TOP scheme funding would have been more beneficial had it happened earlier.
"The Olympics (August 5-21) is so close now. I am hoping we can make the best of this (training) opportunity. We had no funding or sponsor earlier, and Manoj was forced to contend with whatever training facilities we have in our village (Rajound). But despite the setback, I'm proud to see Manoj make it to Rio. These hardships will only make him more determined to win a medal," said Rajesh.