Vijender’s bronze caps India’s Olympic campaign (Round-up)

August 22nd, 2008 - 10:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 22 (IANS) Indian participation in its best-ever Olympic Games came to an end Friday with the joy of boxer Vijender Kumar’s bronze medal and the disappointment of the women’s 4×400m relay team failing to qualify for the finals in the showpiece athletics event.Curtains came down on the 22 year old Vijender’s splendid run in the middle weight (75 kg) category semi final, as he went down to Cuban Emilio Correa Bayeaux Jr., but the Bhiwani boy’s efforts were enough to land India its maiden boxing medal. Shooter Abhinav Bindra clinched the country its first ever individual gold on August 11, before wrestler Sushil Kumar claimed a bronze Wednesday. With two days still remaining in the competition, India are 46th in the medals tally with a 1-0-2 haul.

However, the dismal showing in athletics stretched to the women’s quarter mile relay. The team comprising Geetha Satti, Manjeet Kaur, Chithra Soman and Mandeep Kaur clocked 3:28.83 seconds to finish ahead of the last-placed Japanese team in heat 1 at the National Stadium.

Though much was not expected from the event, the seventh position finish in the Athens Olympics in 2004 had raised hopes that the foursome would at least qualify for the finals. The team has been on a winning spree with titles at the Asian Games 2006, Asian Championships 2007 and a silver in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but Friday they were nowhere near the national record of 3:26.89 secs.

Despite his feat, Vijdender was humble and gracious.

“Sorry, sir, I lost the fight. I thought I could win, but maybe I made a mistake by being defensive at the start and it cost me,” said Vijender who went down 5-8 to Emilio.

At the other end, Emilio Correa Jr., inspired by his 1972 Olympic champion father, Emilio Correa Bayeaux Sr., admitted that they had planned a slightly altered strategy for the Indian.

The Cuban said: “I fought him once before in Bulgaria and I won. But this time I had to change my strategy because he already knows me. I had to surprise him.”

“We have a lot of experience in fights, in training, in discipline,” he said.

The Indian team’s coach, Gurbax Singh Sandhu, said: “I don’t think we should feel sad. Yes, we expected Vijender to win, because he ís such a good fighter and it was a close contest. But still to have five boxers here - with three reaching the quarter finals - is 60 per cent success. And to have one in semi-finals with a medal, it is 20 per cent. I think we should celebrate and hope boxing takes on from here.”

On the semifinal bout, Vijender said: “I think our strategy failed a little in the beginning, as I was somewhat defensive and got behind by two points because he attacked. Maybe that was my mistake.”

Still, Vijender can hold his head high as he lost an evenly matched bout 5-8. In the end, it may have been the crucial third round, where the Cuban launched a flurry of punches to pick two quick points in the last eight seconds, including one which beat the bell by a micro-second.

In terms of rounds, both Vijender and Emilio won two each, but it was the crucial third round that tilted the scales in the Cuban’s favour, who is now just one fight away from emulating his father who won the welterweight Olympic gold in 1972 alongside heavyweight legend Teofilo Stevenson.

“He got the lead in the first round and then got a couple of lucky points in the third and that cost me a lot,” said the Bhiwani boxer, whose bronze medal could well launch a boxing revolution in India.

The fight admittedly was slow, but in such an evenly-matched contest, where the height and reach was almost similar, it was natural for both the fighters to first size up each other before going on the attack.

“It was a slow start,” said Vijender. “But he got those two points in the first round to set up a lead.”

Emilio Correa consistently tried a one-two, first opening with either a left or right and then in a flash sneaking in another jab to score.

In the second round, it was the Cuban who first went up 3-0, before Vijender got his first point, only to see Emilio Correa pick another to make it 4-1.

Undaunted, Vijender landed two points in the last 40-odd seconds to win the round 3-2 but still trail by a point at 3-4.

The third round proved crucial. After parrying the Indian’s jabs and attempted upper cuts, Emilio got the first point of the round at the half-minute mark to make it 5-3. The score stayed there as both relied on their defence to keep each other out. But into the last eight seconds, the Cuban let loose a flurry of punches, which opened up Vijender’s defence for a small period. Emilio Correa scored once to make it 6-3 and then just before the bell sounded, he sneaked one more to make it 7-3, winning the round 3-0.

With a four-point cushion at the start of the final round, it was natural for the Cuban to play safe and hold his lead. Despite that he added one more point in the first minute to make it 8-3.

But his flat punching and hitting with the palm earned him the ire of the referee who penalised him for foul punching and that gave the Indian a two-pointer to reduce the gap to 5-8. But in the remaining 30 seconds, Vijender was unable to land any more points as the Cuban closed the defence and did not allow any of Vijender’s punches to land on target.

As the bout ended, the Cuban was ecstatic to make it to his first big final, and Vijender was rather upset, which showed even when he met the media a few minutes later.

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