India emerging as powerhouse of Asian boxing

June 22nd, 2009 - 9:47 am ICT by IANS  

By Avishek Roy
New Delhi, June 22 (IANS) Boxers are being hailed as the new sporting heroes in the country and India as seen as the powerhouse on the Asian continent. The spark was noticed at the Beijing Olympics and in 10 months the Indians are out scaling greater heights.

At Beijing, Vijender Singh won India’s first Olympic medal, a bronze, and Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar came close to adding two more medals. The three put a Haryana town, Bhiwani, on the world boxing map. Their success has become countryside folklore, describing how they managed to overcome adverse conditions and inadequate facilities to pack power in their punch.

It came as no surprise when as many as seven boxers made it to the semi-final of the Asian Championship in Zhuhai, China, underscoring their rise. Eventually, they won a gold, two silver and four bronze medals. India finished third behind Uzbekistan and champions China in the team championship.

It is not that Indian boxers have done well all of a sudden. Old-timers recall their exploits way back in the 1982 Seoul Asian Championship when they bagged two gold, two silver and a bronze. Those were the days when India used to be among the best in the region.

“Their showing in China clearly points to their standing among the leading boxing nations in Asia,” insists national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.

“The standard of Asian boxing is at a different level now. So you can’t compare. With countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan competing, the quality of boxing was very high and this is India’s best ever showing in the Asian Championship,” he said.

“The talent pool in the country is growing. Now we have talented boxers coming from the northeastern states Manipur and Assam. The Beijing success saw the boxers being rewarded handsomely with cash and also plum jobs. That’s motivation enough for a lot of youngsters to jump into the ring,” says Sandhu.

India could have easily won more gold medals, but Thokchom Nanao Singh lost by one point.

The Asian performance came close on the heels of an equally impressive performance at the junior World Cup last month where India finished with one silver and three bronze medals. Sandeep (46 kg) won silver while Namit Bahadur (50 kg), Vikas Khatri (54 kg) and Shiva Thapa (52 kg) ended with bronze medals in Armenia.

The most heartening aspect of the renaissance of Indian boxing is that a lot of youngsters from the far-flung northeastern states are pretty serious about the craft.

Suranjoy Singh, the lone gold medallist in the 51 kg category in Zhuhai, and Nanao, the sliver medallist in the 48 kg category, hail from Manipur. Jai Bhagwan (60 kg) bagged silver while Jitender Kumar (54 kg), Vijender (75 kg), Dinesh Kumar (81 kg) and Paramjit Samota (+91 kg) won bronze medals.

Taking up a sport like boxing is not easy for these boxers who often have to go against their family’s wishes.

Nanao, who hails from Bishnupur, found a strong liking for boxing after seeing the legendary Mohammad Ali on television.

“I saw Ali on TV. I never missed the programme on his life and time on Discovery channel. I watched it at my neighbour’s place. And I decided to take to boxing and enrolled myself at a local club without informing my parents. They came to know about it and were totally against it. My coach somehow convinced them.”

“Later I went to the Army Artillery Centre in Hyderebad in 2001 and then the Army Sports Institute in Pune where I trained.”

Like Nanao, Suranjoy’s family too was not convinced when he told them about his boxing plans. Suranjoy followed his brother Suranjit Singh into the sport, giving up football.

“My family was opposed to my boxing in the beginning. They never wanted another of their sons to take up the sport.

“Football has a huge following in Manipur and I got introduced to the sport at an early age. I was a good forward, but despite putting all my efforts, I was not picked for the state team. That’s when I was drawn towards boxing.

“My brother achieved success in boxing at the international level. My brother told me that success in individual sport can fetch more laurels. I thought that boxing can give me all that I want in life,” says Suranjoy, one of seven siblings.

Suranjit had to leave boxing after an accident in 2006, and Suranjoy has been living his dream since then.

“After I won medals in the national championship, my parent had a change of heart and they are supportive.”

(Avishek Roy can be contacted at avishek.r@ians.in )

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