National gold-winning boxer Shiva Thapa eyes for a medal at world championship
At 27, Shiva Thapa is a five-time Asian medallist and will be competing in his third world championship in Serbia from October 24
Tell Shiva Thapa that he is the most seasoned boxer in the Indian squad for next month's world championships and the newly-crowned national gold-medallist takes a pause to reflect before trying to downplay that description.
At 27, he is a five-time Asian medallist and would be competing in his third world championship in Belgrade, Serbia from October 24. Adding to his credit is the fact that Thapa is among just the six male boxers from India who have a medal at amateur boxing's biggest showpiece after the Olympics.
"Being the most experienced means more responsibility. I would like to look at it this way. My job would be to ensure there is a good vibe in the squad, keep the fire ignited going forward," the light welterweight (63.5kg) boxer, the only Indian male with that many Asian medals, told PTI in an interview.
The two-time Olympian has been rebuilding after falling off the radar for a while. He couldn't make the cut for Tokyo Olympics as his rival in the weight category, Manish Kaushik, claimed the slot in the very first qualifier. But never the one to look back or rue missed opportunities, the former youth Olympics silver-winner made a statement with his fifth Asian championship medal in May earlier this year.
Now with the national title under his belt in Bellary on Tuesday, Thapa is eager to become the first Indian male boxer to grab a second world championship medal come October.
"This was the most intense national championship that I have been a part of. Perhaps because the gold-winners were to be picked for the world championship. But seriously, I could not take it easy against even one guy," he said. Despite the stiff challenge, he did manage to score one Knockout win during the tournament.
"The challenge coming to Bellary was my preparation. It wasn't particularly great. I was training at home but it is not the same as being in a camp. So, I called up my good friend (and fellow boxer) Kavinder (Bisht), who is with the Air Force and he invited me to join him in Bengaluru for training at their camp," he said. "I landed here a few days before the Nationals and those 3-4 days were very helpful in getting me ready," he elaborated.
His world championship experience has been bitter-sweet. Thapa won a medal in 2015 but in 2017, when the event was held in Hamburg, a stomach ailment forced him to withdraw without competing. As has been his approach, the soft-spoken Assamese prefers to look ahead instead of reflecting on the time that has slipped out of his grip.
"We have a really good team. And I believe all of us are going to do well. It is my third world championship and it would be memorable if I win a medal," he said. The performance would be crucial because Indian men's boxing needs to recover from an underwhelming Olympics, where only one of the five in fray made it past the preliminary round.
"It's easy to sit outside and judge. Nobody likes to lose. They all prepared and they gave their best. There are factors which are beyond everyone, it is a contact sport, never forget that," said Thapa, trying to make sense of the campaign which is being reviewed at present by the national federation. "Hopefully, the world championship will go well for us. I am really looking forward to it," he added.
Aside from being a trial for the worlds, the national championship this year brought back the head guards to ensure that cuts and bruises could be kept low. Thapa said it was a good move.
"I have competed both with and without head guards. I would say, having head guards is good for something like the Nationals where you are competing everyday because it certainly minimizes the risk of cuts," he said. "At something like the world championships where there is gap between bouts, it is fine without head guards," he explained.
The preparations for the world event will get underway in the next few days but before that, there is another competition for which Thapa has to be ready, albeit in front of a computer at Sivasagar, more than 300km from his base in Guwahati on Sunday.
"I have to appear for an exam to gain promotion in ONGC, where I am employed. I will become an officer once I do that. The exam is on September 26, I have the course material with me, so I don't have too much breathing space right now. Lot of running around because I have to go to Sivasagar (ONGC office) from Guwahati, where I live. But I am not complaining, it is always better to be on the move than being stagnant," he laughed.