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"Boxers have failed to win more than an Olympic bronze - Is that our benchmark?" | By V. Devaranjan

Boxers have failed to win more than an Olympic bronze - Is that our benchmark? | By V. Devaranjan

V Devarajan

Published: 12 March 2018 12:22 PM GMT
As someone who has been through quite a few phases in a long professional life, I find myself in a unique position to comment on the changing landscape of Indian sport in general and boxing in particular. Youngsters looking to pursue a career in sport often look to me for advice. To them, I have only this to say- never shy away from facing your fears. If life knocks you down once, make sure you never create another opportunity so it defeats you can. My father was an inspirational figure and one of the main reasons I took up Boxing as a profession, the rest, as they say, is history. Being the son of the bodybuilder instilled the culture of sports in my vein, and my destiny was scripted.
My father held the Mr. Tamil Nadu title for three years and also won several at Mr. India competitions. He all his three sons to get into boxing but I stood out from the rest. Being the first national champion from Tamil Nadu at the tender age of 17 promised much more in the future. At 19, I made a cut to Barcelona Olympics where I had a great chance to win a Gold medal or Silver at least. I was drawn against Cuban Boxer Joel Casamayor which was indeed an uphill task in the first round. Unfortunately, after giving a tough fight I lost the bout. Joel went on to win the Gold medal in the Bantamweight category. Although I was shown the exit door early in the event, it was a big achievement for me to brush shoulders with the best in the business, but the ultimate was yet to come! The Bronze medal at the 1994 World Boxing Championship was like a dream come true, it healed the disappointment of not getting a podium finish in Barcelona. I became the first Indian to win a World Cup medal on foreign soil. Such a feat grabbed the attention of the entire nation and becoming a household name was an icing on the cake for me. The scenario in Indian boxing at that time was such that the medal at the World Championships was unimaginable. Overjoyed was an understatement! Arjuna Award win followed up soon next year and I was set to achieve higher goals. The Gold medal win at the 1995 South Asian Games added a feather to my cap. It was also in this year that I was named the 'Sportsman of the Year' by the Railways. Although the Railways was a big support throughout my entire life, yet I had to fight for my right for a long period before I finally got a promotion. Joining the Southern Railway in 1991, several tears later I made an appeal for a promotion to the officer level from clerical cadre but I was denied an upgrade even though I proved that athletes with lesser credentials than me got a promotion. Fortunate to have cultivated a boxers' attitude inside myself, I fought until the end and after 7 years of endurance, I got justice.  A favourable verdict from the Central Administrative Tribunal was worth a wait. It was a different bout but I had the last laugh! There was a time in my life where I wanted to prolong my career and gain greater exposure, so I decided to shift my focus to professional boxing. The long flight to the United Kingdom may have started a glorious chapter in my life, but I realised that the decision to ply my trade in Europe was a wrong decision.
It was much later I came to know that amateur boxing is totally different from professional boxing. The level of competition, the type of preparation is a notch above the amateur level. In the amateur level, you need speed and endurance but strength is the key to the professional circuit. In professional boxing, they want to see action. Blood is entertainment. It is pretty serious business, as no matter how good you are, one heavy punch can shake your body and mind. Looking back, that still remains one of my greatest regrets. But, in a way, I'm a little glad to have gone through that phase. At least now, I will be able to hold up my life as an example of what not to do for the future generations of boxers that come after me. That's how you grow as a person. You stop dwelling on the negative influence each mistake may have had on you. It is more important to focus on the little positivity you can draw from it. This was the reason I even called up Shiva Thapa's father and advised him not to send the youngster into the professional circuit; I was concerned that my successors would not make the same mistake as I did. Things have changed since I stopped competing. The level of boxing has definitely gone up. It's heartening to see youngsters battle it out with all they have got. They've got that fire and that hunger in them and the best part is, they begin at a young age. That is the time they have all their strength and agility then. In the last four years, we have progressed a lot and the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) is doing a great job in grooming the boxers. But the bitter truth is that we failed to win more than a Bronze medal at the Olympics. Is that our benchmark? I won Bronze 20 years back and since then no one has ever got a better result in Boxing in major tournaments. The current generation is getting the support possible, training facilities, exposure, but still, the colour of the medal is yet to change. Khelo India School Games is a very good prospect because the government is spending a lot in promoting young talents. Money is an important factor as it gives a motivation factor for the athletes. I have a strong feeling that if a goal is set, athletes will strive to bring out the best in them.
Also read: 
Hit or miss: Re-evaluating the success of Khelo India School Games Awards hardly tempt athletes these days, it's all about money. We have seen an ocean of change in the attitudes of the athletes in India in the past few decades. Players have now become professional; they are aiming for high rewards, spending lakhs of rupees in training. Though I cannot name any particular boxer who has a possibility to shine for our Nation in the future, I feel young talents have the best chance to emerge victorious in mega-events. Youngsters always have the urge to prove themselves along with a nothing to lose attitude, so their performance on a big stage can pose a huge threat to the veterans. According to me, India should target only the individual based disciplines like boxing, wrestling, and badminton. The percentages of India getting a medal are high compared to team games like hockey and football. For the records, Sushil Kumar won the Silver medal and a Bronze in two Olympics in Beijing and London respectively. Also read: The first day of training, I came back home with blood all over my face It is difficult to win medals in team games as players come from different parts of the country from various cultures, each with different mindsets. Working smartly- that's the key to success. If you're putting an effort in somewhere, that should reap results. Otherwise, what's the use?
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