CHENNAI: Manoj Kumar is racing against time. The pugilist, who had laid low due to injury since Asian Games last year, recently returned to the national camp in Patiala. Even though he has years of experience behind him, his first few weeks since comeback in early June has been like his first few days in the sport. Having learnt a great deal during rehabilitation, there’s new-found enthusiasm as he looks to get himself in the reckoning for the Tokyo Olympics.
“For now, I have been focussing on fitness and conditioning. It will be a slow process, I know I will take some time to get back to full strength,” the two-time Olympian says.
During his period of injury, he had gained plenty of weight, crossing 80kg. Future looked bleak then. To add to his misery, he had been removed from TOP Scheme, which meant that he was not getting the required financial assistance for treatment.
However, that’s when Boxing Federation of India stepped in and found a sponsor for the former Commonwealth Games gold medallist. With the assistance of specialised physios and doctors at Sri HN Reliance Hospital in Mumbai, he got back to his feet, thereby making his first step towards return.
Years of experience has taught him to be patient. He knows this is a grand opportunity, especially given the fact that the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone Olympic qualifiers to 2020 could potentially prove to be beneficial to him. “For certain boxers, it (IOC’s decision) is good but for the rest, it is a big blow. For me, I will get a good amount of time to recover and get ready for Olympic qualifiers,” the Arjuna awardee observes.
But in his absence, the other boxers in his weight category (69 kg) have stepped up. He concedes that World Championships, due to be held in September, is a bit too unrealistic goal for him and has instead set his sights on nationals to make his mark and appeal to the coaches and selectors. “The idea is to remain positive. I shall wait for my chance.”
Odds are heavily stacked against Manoj. Given all the factors (competition and time), he has a mountain to climb. But if there’s one boxer who can’t be written off, it’s Manoj. The 32-year-old has surprised many in the past. When the sport was non-existent in the country, he had beaten odds to become one of the three boxers to make the Rio Olympics cut.