CHENNAI: Until recently, Manju Rani used to spar on an open field in an obscure village in rural Haryana. After a transition from kabaddi to boxing as a child, she and several other youngsters from Rithal village were inspired by coach Sahab Singh — on the insistence of a state official — to sweat hard and dream about becoming the next MC Mary Kom and Vijender Singh. The reality was tough, though. “People from the village used to mock us,” Sahab revealed.
With no support from the government whatsoever, he had to shell out money from his own pocket to keep the place afloat. While Sahab lacked resources, he made up with his strong yearning to do something in the field of sports. Most of his fellow villagers found the whole affair amusing, but there were some who backed him, sending milk and other dairy products to his still-without-a-name training centre. Sahab’s resourcefulness slowly started yielding results. Wards winning medals was just the push he needed. On Sunday, Manju returned with another. But this silver one was from the World Championship, something Sahab would have only dreamt of five years ago, when he began teaching Manju & Co.
Manju, who’ll be 20 soon, lost to Russia’s Ekaterina Paltceva in the 48kg final in Ulan-Ude (Russia). Her dream run ended just before the top of the podium, but she still finished as India’s top performer.
“I gave my 100 per cent, but I couldn’t get the desired result,” said Manju, who joined the team earlier this year after winning the nationals. Sahab felt that she could have won gold, but he knows that Manju has age on her side. Ever since earning a spot in the national camp, Manju — who lost her father due to cancer when she was just 12 — has not looked back. She won silver at her first international meet in Sofia (Bulgaria) in February, followed up by a bronze three months later at India Open. National chief coach Mohammed Ali Qamar too was happy with Manju’s performance. “She beat a top seed on her way to the final. She is highly dedicated and sincere during training. This is a big boost for her and the country.”
On the right path
Manju’s silver rounded off India’s tally to four. Mary showed that she’s far from finished with a record eighth medal (bronze). The Assamese duo of Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) and Jamuna Boro (54kg) also earned a bronze each.
India performance director Raffaele Bergamasco was a pleased man. “We are on the right path. We have excellent chances of finishing on the podium during Tokyo Olympics. After I return to Delhi, I want to discuss some changes with BFI and SAI, with regards to Olympic preparation plans.”