Akhil outduels World champ, one fight away from medal (Second Lead)

August 15th, 2008 - 9:52 pm ICT by IANS  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 15 (IANS) The medal is still one more fight away, yet Akhil Kumar’s win must rank as one of finest performances by an Indian in an Olympic boxing ring. The Haryana boxer gave India a perfect Independence day gift by knocking out World Champion Sergey Vodopyanov of Russia to move into the quaterfinal of the bantamweight (54 kg) category. With the crowd rooting for him, Akhil came back from a huge 2-6 deficit to level at 9-9 and then win the judges nod to edge out his pedigreed Russian rival, and current world champion, Sergey against whom even a loss would not have been a matter of shame.

It was a result also soothed the Indian boxing fan’s ire of 2000 Sydney Olympics, when Gurcharan Singh was at the wrong side of a 12-12 finish with Ukrainian Andriy Fedechuk in the 81-kg quarter finals. The result deprived India of their first-ever boxing medal, but now Akhil could set the record straight.

An articulate speaker with great amount of clarity of thought, Akhil is a picture of confidence when he talks about his goals, aims and abilities, but Friday night he packed them in action.

Back from a corrective wrist surgery carried out only last August - a reason why he missed the December World Championships in Chicago, where Vodopyanov won the world title — Akhil has now firmly placed himself a strong contender for the coveted gold medal.

The 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Akhil will meet Moldovan Gojan Veaceslav in the quarter finals Monday. Gojan beat local favourite Gu Yu, a world championship quarter finalist, on points at 13-6.

“Despite the injury, I have been able to come here, which means luck is on my side. I also have my physio (Heath Matthews) who helped me get back to this shape,” said Akhil, who made the Olympic berth by beating 2004 Olympic silver medalist Worapoj Petchkoom of Thailand in February at the Asian Boxing qualifiers.

“I kept watching my coach (Gurbax Singh Sandhu) who kept signalling me how I was doing and towards the end, he indicated that I was better, and I kept going.”

“I have come to win,” he had said a day earlier. “He (Vodopyanov) may be No. 1 on paper, but I consider and think of myself as No. 1. I am here to win the gold, not for the silver or bronze,” he said.

It was no empty boast as he proved in the ring Friday. Down 2-6, with barely six seconds to go for the end of the second round, Akhil went for the ‘kill’ and how.

He got a quick right and left to reduce the gap down to 4-6 and gave himself a decent chance to catch up and score an upset.

Dropping his guard, as his wont when the pressure rises, Akhil threw caution to the winds, and not just closed the gap but level at 6-6.

That’s when the fight got even more action-packed with boxers realizing there was very little to separate them and each jab and punch, and not points that might come into play for the decision.

The 21-year-old Vodopyanov, drew the Indian in and let loose a left jab and found Akhil’s jaw to go ahead 7-6. But in a flash Akhil neutralized that with right punch to make it 7-7. Just as the gong came down, Vodopyanov managed to sneak in another point for a 8-7 lead into the third round.

It was apparent that Akhil was pumped up. But it was Vovopyanov, who got the first point to make 9-7, and then he decided to close in the defence and not allow Akhil a blow.

The aggressive Indian, who at one stage in the third round was looking for ‘killer’ punch to knock out his opponent, managed to open up his rival. He came to 8-9 and with still a minute to go, he caught up once again at 9-9.

For the next few seconds, the two boxers were simply sizing up each other and Akhil admitted that a quick look at his coach made him realize that he might be ahead on the number of punches thrown and would get the judges nod in the case of a tie.

He stayed out of trouble even as Vodopyanov came in close and tried to even hold and sneak in a late punch. With three seconds to go, the referee had to tell both boxers to come in closer, but it was too late as the gong went off.

The points were levelled 9-9, but both boxers knew the result. Vodopyanov, six years younger to Akhil, broke into tears as the referee declared Akhil the winner and celebrations erupted in the Indian corner and elsewhere in the stands, where all the Indian officialdom, including President of the Indian Olympic Association, Suresh Kalmadi, and Randhir Singh, Secretary General of the IOA, were watching the bout.

On Akhil’s quarter is Mongolian Badar-Uugan Enkhbat, the World Championship silver medalist, who celebrated his country’s first-ever gold medal at the Olympics Thursday - by judoka Naidan Tuvshinbayar - by beating Ireland’s John Joseph Nevin 9-2 in a one-sided competition.

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