Vijender and his opponent Emilio are out to punch historyAugust 21st, 2008 - 5:37 pm ICT by IANS
Beijing, Aug 21 (IANS) History beckons both Vijender Kumar of India and Cuban Emilio Correa Bateaux when they clash in the middleweight (75kg) boxing semi-finals of the Olympic Games here Friday. While Emilio Correa Jr, as he is called, tries to emulate his Olympic gold medallist father, Emilio Correa Sr, Vijender, the first Indian boxer in an Olympic semi-final, looks to convert the bronze he has into a medal of a richer hue.
Vijender is already a part of the Indian sports history, but his pedigreed rival, who turns 23 in October, hails from a country where boxing is a highly popular sport with a rich history.
Not even the large-scale defections last year, when eight of their leading boxers were lured by professional boxing promoters in Europe and the United States, have hit Cuba. They have the most number of semi-finalists — eight — at these Games.
Welterweight Emilio Correa Sr in 1972 was part of the first bunch of world-class boxers from Cuba that the world got to see in Munich Olympics. Alongside the legendary heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson and bantamweight Orlando Martinez, Emilio Correa Sr. was one of Cuba’s three gold medallists at the Games. Now the son wants to follow in his footsteps.
“My father gave me so much good advice and I am trying to follow it. My dream is to become an Olympic champion like him,” said Correa Jr.
Hailing from countries where sport is seen differently, Vijender and Correa Jr. are a study in contrast.
In terms of height and reach, the Cuban is an inch shorter than Vijender’s six-foot frame, but the Cuban is known to have a slightly longer reach, which packs a mean right upper cut.
Both are young and aggressive, though yet to flower in the real sense of the word.
But in terms of their trophy cabinets, the Cuban seems to have a little more of the precious silverware including a silver from 2004 World championships, a middleweight bronze from the 2005 World Championships besides gold medals at the 2005 and 2008 Pan American Championships and the 2007 PanAm Games.
Vijender, a silver medalist from the 2007 Asian Championships, lost in the round of 32 at both the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2007 World Championships.
In the quarterfinals, Vijender was clearly superior to Ecuadorian Carlos Gongora who he kept at bay with his better reach and some smart point-scoring punches.
Giving Vijender an insight into the Cuban world of boxing will be the Cuban coach B.I. Fernandes, who is part of the Indian coaching pool for a decade now. Then there is also the South African physio Heath Matthews, who has done a great job of keeping the boxers bout-fit.
The Indian camp was confident, though Vijender was cautious. “He is a Cuban boxer but at the moment I won’t comment as we will be seeing his videos. All I can say is that my strategy will be to win, win and win.”
“I am really happy to win India’s first medal in boxing and all credit goes to my coaches, and my parents, especially my father, who went to a far-away temple to pray for my success. My teammates Akhil and Jitender had lost their fights, so I wanted to do well and win the medal.”
In another quarter final, Correa Jr. was avenging his 2004 World junior final defeat by Uzbek Elshod Rasulov, beating him 9-7.
On facing Vijender next, he said, “We have not seen him before.”
Like all Cuban boxers, Correa Jr. is very quick and nimble-footed and a virtual dancer in the ring. Vijender, also a good mover, nevertheless looks much slower in comparison.
Vijender points out to Akhil Kumar as his friend, philosopher and guide, while Correa Jr. does not need to look beyond his own father.
Since their entry into the sport in 1972, Cuba have won 32 gold medals and 20 of them have come since 1992. They had boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. The latest haul of eight will bring Cuba’s total Olympics medal tally to 63.
In contrast India will get their first medal — as Vijender seeks to convert it to either a silver or gold — from the discipline.
The second semi-final in the middleweight semis will see James Degale of Great Britain boxers in the last four, meet Ireland’s Darren Sutherland.