CHENNAI: When the official draw for the Asian Boxing Championships was announced, one thing stood out. Pooja Rani was assured of a medal even before throwing a single punch. On paper, it seemed like a straightforward path for the 28-year-old from Bhiwani, with just five pugilists in the fray.
But her assignment was far from easy. Though she had medalled twice (silver, 2012; bronze, 2015) in the past, she still had obstacles, chief among them being a possible confrontation with China’s Wang Lina, the reigning world champion in the 81kg category.
When coaches were asked to place their bets on boxers who would likely go the distance, Pooja wasn’t their automatic choice. In MC Mary Kom’s absence, the experts leaned on the likes of Sonia Chahal (57kg), Simranjit Kaur (64kg) and Lovlina Borgohain.
Despite the odds, Pooja ended up being the lone gold medallist in the women’s section on Friday. The icing on the cake was she trumped Lina to earn the yellow metal. It was, incidentally, India’s first ever gold medal in the continental event in the 81kg category. “I played with no fear in the final and gave my 100 per cent. This gold will give me plenty of confidence ahead of other important events,” Pooja said.
Mohammed Ali Qamar, national women’s chief coach, was pleasantly surprised. “She was extraordinary. All she needed was some motivation. After her victory in the semis, all the coaches were trying their best to add to her belief. And she showed plenty of courage in the final,” he said.
That little push was enough for the national champ, who shifted to her current category from 75kg not long ago, to raise her game when the need arose. Having endured setbacks in the past, this outcome is a big shot in the arm for the boxer who has an Asian Games medal (bronze) in her CV. Moreover, Qamar said that she has an outside chance of making it to the Olympics, even though her category is not part of the Olympic programme. “We will discuss that immediately. I would not rule her out.”
Amit on a roll
Amit Panghal seems to be in the zone at the moment. The Asian Games gold medallist lived up to his billing by winning yet another gold. His efforts helped the men’s team post its best-ever result with (1G, 3S, 3B) a haul of seven medals. The previous best at the event, seven (1G, 2S, 4B), was recorded a decade ago. Indians returned with 2 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze. Kavinder Singh Bisht (56kg), Deepak (49kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg) and Simranjit settled for silver on the final day.