In the last half a decade or so, Vijender Singh has garnered a heroic image in Indian boxing and has lived up to it to the tee. Starting from his historic 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze to the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games gold, which he won despite a broken finger. This was sandwiched by the World No 1 Middleweight ranking, and more recently, his last-ditch qualification for the London Games through the ongoing Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Astana, Kazhakstan, where he simultaneously performed the role of mentor to the six-member Indian boxing contingent. The star pugilist spoke to MiD DAY from Astana after guiding teenagers Shiva Thapa (56kg) and Sumit Sangwan (+81kg) to the London Olympics, thereby ensuring India will send its largest ever boxing contingent of seven fighters to the English capital.
You seem to be making a habit of entering the history books. First the Beijing medal and now you are part of India’s largest ever Olympic boxing contingent...
I’m lucky and proud to be part of Indian boxing at a time when the sport is looking skyward. This current crop of boxers are very talented due to which Indian boxing is enjoying its best phase. I hope this continues and the sport can build an even bigger fan-following in our country. Credit must go to our coaches and support staff and obviously the Indian Boxing Federation, who have done their bit in promoting the game and supporting the fighters all of whom come from very humble backgrounds. It’s only because of this collective effort that we have been able to field as many as seven boxers across the 10 weight categories at the London Games as compared to five at Beijing in 2008.
Tell us about this young boxing contingent heading to London...
This is a great young Indian team. The boxers are aggressive and obviously very enthusiastic of the task ahead. Shiva and Sumit have done really well considering they beat some prominent names in world boxing to make it to London. Besides, we also have some very exciting fighters in Devendro (Singh, 49 Kg), Manoj (Kumar, 64kg) and Vikas (Krishan, 69kg) who also hold a lot of promise. For me, there at least three medal contenders in this seven-member Olympic boxing squad, so I won’t be surprised if we create history by winning more medals at London too.
You said you were confident of making it to London in this final qualifier, but what about the added pressure on you having to mentor the youngsters in Astana?
There’s pressure every time you step into the ring. And when you are wearing national colours, the pressure is even more. But I was confident of making it to London through these Asian Qualifiers as I had done so similarly before the Beijing Games. I knew I had to only make it to the semi-finals, so we planned our approach accordingly. But yes, mentoring added a bit more responsibility. It was a testing phase for me as I had not yet qualified for the Games myself and here I had to guide others to do so. But, it was an enjoyable experience as these young boys are ever willing to listen and learn.
But your semi-final defeat (to Turkmenistan’s Nursahat Pazziyev) must have hurt?
There’s always disappointment in defeat. But to be honest, I didn’t go all out for the win. It was part of our team strategy. My sole aim here was to qualify for the London Games and I’ve done that. It’s the Olympic medal that’s most important now.
Speaking of that medal, could you tell us about your London dreams?
Well, I’ve already won an Olympic bronze so obviously I’m not going to settle for anything less than the silver or gold. But my aim is the gold medal and I promise to go all out for it. I’m training well at the National Institute of Sport in Patiala and I’m fighting well in competitions too. I believe, at 26, I’m just the right age to peak at the Olympics.