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BOXING / AIBA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

In the right direction

Four Olympic qualification berths and a bronze medal at the Worlds. India couldn't have asked for more in the run-up to the London Olympics next year. Over to Y. B. Sarangi.

SANDEEP SAXENA

Good show… Vikas Krishan won the lone medal for India, a bronze, at the World Championship.

The AIBA World Championships in Baku (Azerbaijan) recently witnessed India's emergence as a top boxing country in the world. The Indians, so far known in the international circle as just a bunch of boxers with a lot of potential, finally asserted their class by claiming four Olympic qualification berths and a bronze medal.

India, preparing for the London Olympics next year, couldn't have asked for more.

In the 2007 World Championships in Chicago, only one boxer, A. L. Lakra, made it to the quarterfinals, earning India just a solitary Olympic qualification berth. Two years later, in Milan, Olympic medallist Vijender Singh became the first ever boxer from the country to win a medal — a bronze — at the world championships.

When compared against these facts, the magnitude of India's achievement in Baku becomes very clear. Besides, the statistics provided by the AIBA with regard to the overall Olympic qualification puts things in perspective. Of the 64 (in eight weight categories) who made the cut for the London Olympics, five boxers each have qualified from Russia and Ukraine, while four each from Cuba, India, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have made the grade.

The depth of Indian boxing can be gauged from the performance of its young and up and coming pugilists. The lone medallist in Baku, Vikas Krishan (69kg), and another boxer who reached the quarterfinals, L. Devendro Singh (49kg), are only 19 years old. And for Asian Games silver medallist Jai Bhagwan (60kg) and Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Manoj Kumar, it was an achievement to win berths for the London Olympics. These performances made up for the early defeats suffered by established names such as Vijender (75kg), Akhil Kumar (56kg), Suranjoy Singh (52kg), Dinesh Kumar (81kg) and Paramjeet Samota (plus-91kg).

People associated with the sport and those keeping track of the progress of the Indian boxers will agree that, at the international level, India has been doing consistently well in all age groups. And the competition among the pugilists (in a particular weight category) has become intense.

The selection trials for the Worlds had drawn a lot of interest from the lovers of the sport and the media. The coaching staff as well as the boxers themselves had said that the contest was so keen that nobody could take their places for granted.

A young Devendro beat more accomplished boxers like Amandeep Singh and Nanao Singh to make the World Championships squad. And Manpreet Singh (91kg), an Asian Games silver medallist, defeated Commonwealth Games champion Samota when the latter tried to fight in a lower weight category. The pressure to earn a place in the Indian team and then do well at the Worlds brought the best out of the boxers.

India's Chief Coach G. S. Sandhu rightly pointed out that the sparring partners (who were part of the National camp and remained unsung throughout) also deserved a word of praise for assisting and pushing the boxers who went on to make the country proud.

Rookie Devendro, making his international debut at the senior level, scored a superb 40-19 victory against Mexican Joselito Velazquez and stunned seventh-seeded Carlos Quipo of Ecuador on way to the quarterfinals. Jai Bhagwan, showing maturity, upset the seventh-ranked boxer in his category, David Joyce of Ireland, before narrowly missing the chance to win a medal. He lost his quarterfinal bout against Kazakhstan's Gani Zhailaouv by one point.

Manoj wasn't far behind. He outpunched fourth-ranked Irish Roy Moylette in the second round and then staged a come-from-behind victory in the next round against Qing Hu of China before going down to fifth-seeded Thomas Stalker of England in the round of eight.

The show-stopper, however, was Vikas. A former World youth champion and a bronze medallist in the Youth Olympics, the Bhiwani boy was a picture of confidence. “He is an intelligent boxer,” said India's long-time foreign coach B. I. Fernandez.

Vikas, whose favourite pastime is playing chess, has shown what can be achieved when brain goes along with brawn.

His rise may be meteoric, but he deserves it thoroughly. Vikas had given a glimpse of his talent when he had beaten Olympian Diwakar Prasad in the National Championship in Delhi last year. It was his maiden domestic event at the senior level. He easily adapted to the demands at the senior level and months later surprised all by winning the gold medal (60kg) at the Guangzhou Asian Games.

As one who kept his shell guard up and tight and fought some boring duels, Vikas had to face a challenge when the AIBA changed the scoring system and forced the boxers to be more aggressive. He transformed himself successfully as per the new requirements of the sport.

The youngster also had another difficult task before him: to go up in the weight class since it was difficult for him to maintain his weight. He accepted this challenge too and went up by two notches to 69kg. At the Worlds, he fought in the new weight category.

Known for creating some drama in the ring by raising his hand after landing a punch successfully, Vikas was involved in some thrilling bouts. He got past seventh-ranked Mahammed Nurudzinau of Belarus on tie-breaker and pipped Vasil Belaous of Moldova by a solitary point to book a berth in the semifinals. He, thus, became the second Indian to win a medal in the World Championships.

Vikas was gracious in his 12-15 defeat to a superior and stronger Taras Shelestyuk in the semifinals. The youngster applauded as his Ukrainian opponent was declared the winner.

Vikas later said that he needs to work on his strength. “I lost the bout because my opponent was stronger and more mature than me. I have to build my strength and for that I will fight in a higher weight category,” he said.

Vikas acknowledged the contributions of his coaches — Rajendra More of Army Sports Institute, Pune, and Jagdish Singh of the Bhiwani Boxing Club — who helped him in his formative years.

Talking of India's overall performance, both Sandhu and Fernandez said it was ‘beyond expectations'.

“We had never thought of this kind of results. Four Olympic qualification berths and a medal are excellent,” said Fernandez.

Indian boxers will get another chance to win berths for the 2012 Olympics as they compete in a qualifying event in Astana, Kazakhstan, from April 1-8 next year.