Before breaking barriers to achieve a World Championship gold medal, boxer Nikhat Zareen excelled in athletics, winning medals in 100m, 200m and 400m at the district level. Her recent feat serves as a reminder that there is a place for girls to…
Indian boxer Nikhat Zareen poses with her gold medal after winning Women's World Championship match against Thailand's Jitpong Jutamas in the flyweight (52kg) final, in Istanbul on Thursday. Pic/ PTI
Behind that unassuming demeanour, boxer Nikhat Zareen, who hails from a nondescript Vinayak Nagar in Nizamabad (Telangana), are layers of steely resolve and perseverance. She always wanted to make it big in the boxing ring and win laurels for her town, state and country. Her moment came in the World Boxing Championship at Istanbul on Thursday when she put up a sterling show to beat Jitpong Jutamas of Thailand 5-0 in the 52kg final.
The gutsy Zareen, who was once ridiculed by MC Mary Kom (“who is Nikhat Zareen? I don’t know her,” she said on Republic TV), made a telling statement to become the fifth Indian woman to win a gold at the World Championship. Five bouts in seven days and unanimous wins make it more remarkable. “Inshallah, I will work hard like this and try to give my best to win a medal in the Paris Olympics. I dedicate this medal to all my countrymen who supported me throughout my career,” she vowed.
Trending on Twitter
Quite naturally, social media was abuzz with the news of her Terrific Thursday. “Am I trending on Twitter? It was always my dream to trend on Twitter and to achieve something for my country at the world level, is the biggest motivation,’’ said Zareen.
Father Mohd Jameel Ahmed recalled his daughter dreaming big. “Even when there were setbacks, she took them in her stride. She is mentally strong. That is the biggest X-factor. She is very passionate about the national anthem and flag. One could see the tears in her eyes when it was played at the medal ceremony,” said Ahmed.
Coach Emani Chiranjeevi
Emulating the stalwarts
Nizamabad is a major urban agglomeration and the third largest city in Telangana state. But over the years, the city has been able to churn out important persons like Gold Coast Commonwealth gold medallist Mohammad Hussamuddin, Zareen and Indian woman footballer Guguloth Soumya. Being a sportsperson himself, Ahmed would often accompany young Zareen to the Collector’s ground. “She had an athletic body, was very good in athletics and won medals in 100m, 200m and 400m at a district meet. She would not miss a practice session and while doing all this, the boxing ring was sighted by her.
“One fine morning, she asked me whether she can join the boxing camp? For a few moments, I was a little blank as boxing was a man’s world although in the last few years boxers like Mary Kom made headlines. I didn’t disappoint her. I knew, we being from the Muslim community, we could face some opposition. Wearing shorts was a daring move. But I went ahead and did not listen to anyone. I approached Samsamuddin (Hussamuddin’s father), my uncle, and he readily agreed to train my daughter,’’ revealed Ahmed.
For Samsamuddin, it was a different challenge. “Boxing is a man’s world. No girl would venture to take up this sport. But Nikhat was different. She was frail, but full of energy. Gradually, she could beat the boys in friendly bouts,” he said. Boxing coach Omkar Yadav recalled Zareen excelling in a Karimnagar meet. “She won the best boxer award there and displayed tremendous flair and natural talent,” Yadav remarked.
Zareen’s rise was swift and she got selected for the Sports Authority of India camp in Visakhapatnam to train under IV Venkateshwara Rao. “What stunned me was the way she took to boxing. Within three months, she started winning bouts. At 13, she beat an 18-year-old in the state championship. Growing in confidence, she qualified for the junior world championship, where she won gold. Here I thought I should concentrate more on her,” Ahmed pointed out.
Holding her own
Ahmed decided to shift from Nizamabad to Hyderabad and have Zareen train under former chief national coach Emani Chiranjeevi. They even rented a house near the training centre. Chiranjeevi recalled Zareen arriving as a 14-year-old. “She was the lone girl and was pitted against strong boys. I was sometimes scared when some of the blows landed nastily on her face. I began to wonder if I made a mistake, but this girl had a big heart. I took her to the 2016-17 All India University Championship at Jalandhar and she won gold there. A similar result was witnessed at the Senior National Championships. As they say, learning starts from listening and not from feeling. Zareen was as sincere as they come. It is a proud moment for all of us now,” said Chiranjeevi, 77, who has trained 21 internationals.
Ouch, that hurt
For Zareen’s father, it is all about sweat and hard work. “Yes, we were hurt by Mary Kom’s comments and when Zareeen was denied a fair trial for the Tokyo Olympics last year. But that is history. We hold no grudges. We cannot forget the financial help of R50 lakh given by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, thanks to the initiative of K Kavitha, who was our MP then. This came in handy when we were struggling financially,” he said.
Zareen is savouring her deserved success. She is on a high and her recent tweet said it all: “It’s finally here. The culmination of hard work and perseverance. India, this one’s for you. We did it together.”