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Indian boxers strike gold

Teen boxers Shiva Thapa and Sumit Sangwan, who both struck gold today at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Astana, Kazakhstan, are still in a state of shock from their accomplishment. 

The qualifiers were great for India, with the boxing contingent bagging three London tickets at the tournament to make it an unprecedented seven-strong contingent for the quadrennial extravaganza.

The 18-year-old Shiva (56kg), who is the youngest Indian boxer to qualify for the Olympics, defeated Syria's Wessam Salamana 18-11 to clinch his second successive senior international gold medal.

The 19-year-old Sumit (81kg) beat Tajikistan's Dzhakon Qurbanov 14-9 to bag his maiden senior international gold in his debut event.

Besides these two, Vijender Singh (75kg) also booked a London berth by making the semifinals of the last qualifiers for the July-August mega-event.

Sumit Sangwan and Shiva Thapa
It's a dream come true for both Sumit Sangwan and Shiva Thapa (inset).

Four Indian boxers -- L Devendro Singh (49kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) - had already booked their Olympic berths in last year's World Championship.

"Shiva put up a fantastic performance. He is a very promising talent," said national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.

"Youngsters winning gold medals in just first and second senior international event is a good sign for Indian boxing. It shows that Indian boxing's future is in safe hands," said Sandhu.

Two other Indian boxers -- Manpreet Singh (91kg) and Paramjeet Samota (+91kg) -- missed out on a London berth and settled for bronze medals in the event.

Talking about making it to the Olympics, Shiva, who is a silver-medallist from the Youth Olympics, told PTI from Astana, "I always dreamt of making it to the Olympics when I started boxing but wow! I mean I have actually qualified, it feels just fantastic."

Shiva, who was included in the team at the expense of senior boxer Akhil Kumar, was competing in only his second senior international event after striking gold on debut last year.

For Sumit, it was his first senior international event after getting the better of Olympian Dinesh Kumar in the national trials. "Of course you dream that it happens but I never thought that I would do it so soon. It's a great feeling," Sumit, who started boxing in 2001, said.

The two come from distinct backgrounds. While Shiva is a product of the Army Sports Institute in Pune, Haryana-lad Sumit has honed his skills under the watchful eyes of his boxer uncle Vinod Sangwan. The two were batch-mates at the junior and youth level and their rise at the senior level has also coincided quite brilliantly.

Talking about their performance at a stage as big as the Olympic Qualifiers, the duo discussed about the challenges of planning for bigger, older and experienced opponents but brushed aside talk of any nerves.

"What nerves? Once I was selected for the tournament, I had the confidence that I could do it," said Shiva.

"No bout is easy at any level but at the senior level, I came across guys who were taller and stronger and it all came down to planning and executing the strategy given to us by our coaches," added Sumit.

No doubt it's a dream realised for them but a dream that is still incomplete. "It's the first step towards the bigger dream of getting an Olympic medal. That it is the ultimate goal," said Shiva, whose favourite at the start of his career was Mike Tyson but right now that preference lies blank.

National coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu was effusive in his praise of the young guns. "They have shown maturity beyond their age. Their performance has been superb in every count. Indian boxing is lucky to have such good young talent," he said.

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