When I'm nervous, my body works well: Nikhat

Currently training at SAI NSNIS Patiala, two-time World Championships gold medallist admits getting nervous sometimes but also says that she thrives on nervous energy
Nikhat Zareen
Nikhat Zareen

CHENNAI: With her steely resolve and ability to overwhelm rivals at will, Nikhat Zareen has been a towering presence in world amateur boxing in the last three years or so. She might seem invincible inside the ring on most days but she still feels nervous. With the Paris Olympics drawing closer and closer, Nikhat admitted that even while chasing her ultimate dream, nervousness is something she lives with and thrives on.

"Before every competition I get nervous. If I don't get nervous, my body doesn't work the way I want. When I'm nervous, my body works well. I'm more focussed. Also, this is my first Olympics and I don't have the experience of playing at the Olympics. That is also the reason I'm nervous.

But once I enter the ring, I don't think about the outside world. I just want to win my bouts and come back with a medal," Nikhat said during an interaction facilitated by Sports Authority of India (SAI), Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Boxing Federation of India (BFI).

Back-to-back world titles (2022 & 2023), Asian Games bronze medal (2023), Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2022, her record speaks for itself. Ever since earning a spot in the national team, she has evolved into a better boxer. And now, she's determined to add an Olympic medal to her CV. Someone who sets the bar high, she said that her family and friends help her calm her nerves.

"I talk to my family or talk to my very close friends. Before going to the venue, I listen to music. I pray and also play games which help me get distracted," Nikhat, who's currently training at SAI NSNIS (Patiala), said.
One thing that stands out is Nikhat's mental fortitude. Something that has been engraved in her ever since she took up the gloves. It's a well-documented tale that she faced early resistance due to gender stereotypes in her community in her hometown in Telangana before fighting countless battles inside the ring to earn her spot in the national team.

Preeti Sai Pawar
Preeti Sai Pawar

That is evident when she spoke about seedings in the upcoming Games. "Seeding doesn't matter much because there are a lot of boxers who couldn't win a medal despite having a seeding. I feel whatever happens, however the draw might be, I just want to win. That is the mindset I like to possess. I have also realised that, whenever things are tough, I tend to perform better," the 27-year-old noted.

She's aware that people consider her to be one of the faces of Indian boxing at present. Nikhat is grateful to be getting this opportunity and it's a given that she'll be looking to leave no stone unturned ahead of the Paris test.

Preeti embracing test
From nearly quitting to becoming one of the potential challengers for Olympic glory, Preeti Sai Pawar has had quite a journey so far.
The youngest (20) member of the team, like Nikhat, is looking forward to the road ahead of her. Having qualified for the Paris Olympics in her very first attempt (Asian Games), the boxer, who is a southpaw, has been fully immersed in her training in recent months. As she's the youngest, she's still learning the nuances of the sport.

"In Strandja Memorial (February 2024), I lost. I had looked at that competition as part of training as my main focus was the Olympics. I got to learn a lot and I don't want to make the mistakes I made during the Olympics," she said. But she bounced back to leave a notable impression in the Asian U-22 Championships in Kazakhstan.

"I took part in the Asian Championships. I won a gold medal and that has handed me a lot of confidence."

The 2023 IBA Women's World Boxing Championships was a monumental event for India. India hosted the marquee event and as many as four boxers (including Nikhat) from the country ended up with gold medals. Preeti, making her debut then, was not among the medal winners but she was involved in three bouts and had left quite a mark then. It was that event that had handed her the initial push. "I was competing with some senior boxers who had loads of experience. That had handed me a lot of confidence," she recalled.

Former national chief coach Bhakar Bhatt, who has known her since her youth days,  had once said that Preeti never gets daunted by challenges. This is a new territory for her and it will be interesting to see how Preeti sets about during the Olympics.

Money matters
MYAS expenditure on boxing in Paris 2024 Olympic Games cycle...

ACTC: Rs 42.50 crore
TOPS & CSR: Rs 10.28 crore
Total: Rs 52.78 crore

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