Bhiwani boxes its way to limelight

August 18th, 2008 - 12:51 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Abhinav Bindra
By Jaideep Sarin
Bhiwani (Haryana), Aug 18 (IANS) They are neither millionaires like India’s latest ‘golden boy’ Abhinav Bindra nor have they yet won an Olympic medal. But three pugilists from this Haryana town have already hogged international limelight by pounding their opponents to reach the quarter-final stage in the Beijing Olympics. All eyes in this town and elsewhere in the country will be on three unrelated Kumars - Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar and Vijender Kumar - through Monday and Tuesday as they try to get a step closer to a podium finish in the 2008 Olympics. The latest boxing sensations are respectively 27, 21 and 22 years old.

Akhil Kumar, the most visible personality among the three boxers, punched his way to the quarter-finals last week when he upset Russian world champion Sergey Vodopyanov in the 54 kg category. That the world champion was in tears after he lost a close fight spoke volumes of Akhil’s grit to win a medal.

Even Bindra, India’s only individual gold medallist, is looking forward to sharing the dais with another medallist from the country.

“I am closely following the boxers and am quite hopeful for them. I am sure they will make the country proud,” Bindra said while relaxing at his farm near Chandigarh.

Their achievements so far in the ongoing Games has already been recognised by the Haryana government, which has announced Rs.2.5 million each for them for reaching the boxing quarter-final round itself. More booty - Rs.20 million - is in store for them if they finish on top.

Behind the trio’s current run of success is Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach Jagdish Singh and the BBC - the Bhiwani Boxing Club. Four out of the five boxers - Akhil, Jitender, Vijender and Dinesh - in the Indian contingent are Singh’s pupils.

The coach himself is not with his celebrity understudies in Beijing and is taking care of future boxing prospects as they compete in under-14 events in Gurgaon.

“No one asked me to come even as the authorities took nearly half a dozen coaches to Beijing. I see my boys perform in Beijing on TV and talk to them before and after every bout. Boxing officials in the past have been critical of my methods of training the boys,” Jagdish Singh said.

In recent days, Bhiwani town in south-west Haryana has been in the news for all the wrong reasons - the town has been inundated by rain, the municipal committee president was shot dead and a police official was charged of rape. Not any longer.

These three youth who all come from villages in Bhiwani and Rohtak districts have changed all that.

Bhiwani has suddenly been catapulted to the position of India’s ‘Little Cuba’ (since a lot of the world’s top pugilists come from Cuba) and the “Mecca of Indian boxing”.

Residents of the town are not entirely bothered about large parts here still being flooded after a week of rainfall. Even the way to coaching centre BBC is still under knee-deep water. But the residents are more concerned about what the three boxers will do in the quarter-finals.

Bhiwani now has eight boxing coaching centres, five of them private. There are over 1,000 budding boxers enrolled in these centres - most from nearby villages.

Kaluwas village in this district - from where the good-looking boxer Vijender Kumar, who has even been featured in men’s magazine Maxim and loves to party and dance, hails - has a boxer from almost every household.

“For children from villages around Bhiwani, it is as important to get admission to a good boxing coaching centre as it is to get into a good school,” says former national champion and BBC trainer Dilbagh Singh.

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