CHENNAI: With gloves on and minds open, Indian boxers have been religiously flexing their muscles during training in the last few weeks for the big season ahead. This is the period where every sportsperson sows the seeds for future successes. For all of them, the objective is common, to qualify and win a medal at the Olympics, watched by millions across the globe.
With Olympic dreams on their minds, the pugilists have started doing their bit recently. Most of them have reported to the national camp (SAI) in Patiala and are sharpening their skills and fitness.
While there are seasoned pros like Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar and MC Mary Kom looking to make the cut, Mandeep Jangra, Shiva Thapa and L Devendro Singh will look to lead the younger batch to Rio. “Everyone dreams of representing the country in the Olympics. I’m focussed on my task ahead. I have considerable amount of time in my training,” Mandeep said.
“The coaches have also been really supportive. It is an important year for all of us. Personally, I’m confident that I can do well and win medals for our country,” he added.
With Boxing India (BI), the national governing body, taking a fall due to infighting recently, the boxers have had to bear the brunt in terms of lack of competition, including foreign exposure trips. The last occasion they competed on foreign soil was at the Incheon Asian Games in September. However, Mandeep said the boxers have had good support from the Sports Ministry and SAI. “We are just concentrating on our boxing. Whatever happens out of the ring is beyond our control. It is upsetting to see the BI losing its way but thankfully, we have had full support from the ministry and SAI in such difficult times.”
Mandeep’s mentor and senior statemate Akhil is aware of the importance of this phase. The two-time Olympic (2004 & 2008) veteran knows where he stands and is ready to give his best. “Well, I’m no stranger to this build-up. I have been working very hard. We just got started. Let’s see how it goes. I have specific workouts, targets prepared for myself.”
The 34-year-old reckons advancing age won’t stop him from yet another shot at the Olympics. “Kabhi kosish karne walo ki haar nahi hoti (those who try never lose) ,” he says.
His indomitable spirit is not yet ready to walk away from what he loves the most. “I have had injury issues and just made a comeback last year. I have had my share of success. I could have walked away from the sport but I chose not to. The support from my family, fans and the government has kept me going. It will not be an easy task but I will give my best.”
Another who has a strong chance of going the distance is Devendro. The Manipuri lad has been a consistent performer in the last few years. He just missed out on the podium in the 2012 London Olympics. Known for his aggressive style, the light flyweight will be keen on winning a medal next year.
Devendro had pulled out of the World Series of Boxing earlier this year due to wrist injury. The Glasgow Commonwealth Games silver medallist has recovered well and is ready for the journey ahead.
“We have been undergoing intensive training in the last few weeks. With a big year ahead, I’m looking forward to the qualifiers. I narrowly missed out on podium finish last time around in London (Olympics). I’m determined to win a medal this time around,” the 23-year-old said.
Devendro’s good friend Shiva is equally determined. “Boxers from all weight categories spar with each other. So, there is a lot of learning experience there. We are still adjusting to new scoring system. It is important to possess speed, so we are working on that too,” Shiva revealed.
The duo, along with five others, will get a chance to see their progress when they travel to Doha in a few days for an international meet. “It’s a welcome trip as we will be travelling abroad after a long gap. We will look to make it count,” said Shiva, who is hopeful of getting one more exposure ahead of Asian Olympic qualifiers in August.
In the women’s category, there are a bunch of boxers knocking at the doors. With just three slots (51kg, 60kg, 75kg) up for grabs, the quest for the prized berth is likely to go down to the wire.
Having confirmed her decision on retirement after the Rio Olympics recently, Mary will be determined to sail through the qualifiers and add one more feather to her cap. But she faces stiff competition from Pinki Jangra, who has stunned her senior compatriot twice, most recently in the selection trials for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games berth last year.