Indian boxing contingent in seventh heaven

While the Indian boxing contingent celebrated the qualification of two more boxers — Shiva Thapa (56kg) and Sumit Sangwan (+81kg) — for the London Olympics after winning their respective semi-finals at the Asian Olympics Qualifiers in Astana (Kazakhstan) yesterday, miles away here in India, Indian Boxing Federation secretary general Brigadier PK Muralidharan Raja heaved a sigh of relief. 

Sumit Sangwan, Shiva Thapa
Sumit Sangwan and (inset) Shiva Thapa.

Three of the six-member Indian boxing contingent in Astana — Thapa, Sangwan and Vijender Singh (75kg) grabbed Olympic quota spots here with the other three — Suranjoy Singh (52kg) bowing out in the preliminaries, Manpreet Singh (91kg) losing in the semis to Iran’s Ali Mazaheri and Paramjeet Samota (+91kg) bowing out in the semis (23-12) to Syria’s Soumar Ghosoun. Vijender too lost his semi-final (7-10) yesterday to Nursahat Pazziyev of Turkmenistan but has already qualified for the Games by reaching the last four stage.

It’s not that Raja did not expect this Indian boxing contingent to do well in Astana. But he wanted his young fighters — 18-year-old Shiva and 19-year-old Sumit — to prove a point to their detractors back home.

PKM Raja
Indian Boxing Federation secretary general PK Muralidharan Raja.

“When the selection committee picked Shiva and Sumit among others after the February 24–26 trials at the National Institute of Sport in Patiala, there was a huge hue and cry raised by a lot of people including some disgruntled senior boxers. The stories came out in the press that we were biased in the selection process and that both Shiva and Sumit were inexperienced and so undeserving.

“However, both the youngsters had won their bouts fair and square and I had all the video evidence with me. Besides, the trials were held in full public view and I had even deliberately invited a section of the media to witness it. Today, by qualifying for the Olympics, these teenagers have proved their worth to the world and more importantly, to all those critics, who were against them,” Brig Raja told Mid DAY from Pune yesterday.

Shiva created history by becoming the youngest Indian boxer to make it to the Olympics when he outpunched Japan’s Satoshi Simizu 31:17 in the semis yesterday. Sumit also won his bout against Jordan’s Ihab Almatdault in similarly convincing fashion 24-12. “Both boxers are very aggressive, highly athletic and very powerful, and that’s the only reason they have done well here.” Chief coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu told MiD DAY from Astana.

Speaking of the controversy involving their selection into the national team, Sandhu said: “In sport, the old always has to make way for the new. Similarly in boxing, the younger boxers come in and take away the positions held by their seniors. This often does not go down well with the seniors who hold experience in high esteem. However, in this new points system experience is not all that important, power is. And that’s why we picked Shiva and Sumit and
today they displayed a truly power-packed performance.”

Besides Shiva, Sumit and Vijender, four more Indian boxers — L Devendro Singh (49kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) — have already made it to the London Games making this India’s biggest ever boxing contingent to the Olympics. It’s no wonder then that Brig Raja is confident of a record medal haul too.

“Till date Indian boxing has won just one medal at the Olympics, a bronze by Vijender at Beijing 2008. But this time round, I’m sure we will at least double that tally. In fact, we could even win three medals going by our boys’ form. I wouldn’t like to predict the medals’ colour though,” he signed off.

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