After impressing in her maiden Women's World Boxing Championships, the prodigiously talented Preeti Pawar is eager to put to the test the learnings from the tournament at the first Olympic qualifiers -- the Asian Games this year -- provided she secures a spot in the Indian contingent.
The 19-year-old put up a fearless display across all three bouts in the marquee event here as she notched an RSC win before toppling the top seed and last edition's silver medallist Lacramioara Perijoc of Romania.
She made a pre-quarterfinal exit after losing a fiercely-contested bout to two-time medallist, Thailand's Jitpong Jutamas, earning plaudits from everyone.
"Junior and youth level is mostly about who attacks more but once you are at the senior level, you have to play with your mind and be more technical," Preeti told PTI. "I feel I need to modify my game, I should not be attacking all the time, I need to counter more. I am working on improving my strength and tweaking techniques. "If I qualify for the Asian Games that will be great. So, I want to be prepared for the Olympic qualifying event," added Preeti, who competes in the 54kg class, an Olympic category.
The Asian Games from September 23 to October 8 in Hangzhou, China is the first Paris Olympics qualifying event for boxers from the continent. For someone, who was averse to the idea of taking up boxing a few years back, the Bhiwani pugilist has made a name for herself quickly in the sport.
"I never thought I'd come into sports and choose boxing as my career. I wasn't interested in sports. I was focused on my studies. "One day, my uncle and father came and said to me that I have to do boxing." The then 14-year-old immediately reacted "Main nahi karungi, boxing toh bilkul bhi nahi (I will never take up boxing)."
But Preeti, whose father is an assistant sub-inspector in Haryana Police, reluctantly started training at her uncle and former national medallist boxer Vinod Sai Pawar's, boxing academy. "In the beginning, boxing was forced on me, I used to go for training but after coming back I used to cry, kabhi pair dard hota tha kabhi haath (sometimes my feet would hurt, other times my hands)."
"It went on for 6-7 months. When I started playing competitions I developed an interest. Then when I won medals, my confidence and interest increased." At her uncle's boxing club, there weren't many girls, so Preeti regularly sparred with boys, much to the dislike of her mother.
"Mummy was scared that I'll get punched. Once during training, I got hit and passed out. I had to be taken to a doctor," recalls Preeti.
The Haryana-based boxer clinched the silver medal at the Youth Asian Championships in 2021. She also joined the Inspire Institute of Sports, which has sponsored her since then.
Making her transition to the senior level, Preeti won bronze in her maiden event -- the 2022 Asian Championships in Jordan. She lost to the Tokyo Olympics featherweight champion Sena Irie of Japan in the semifinal.
"When I boxed in my first senior competition, I felt this is where real boxing starts. I lost to the Tokyo Olympics champion but I got a lot of confidence from that bout." The teenager is a little low on experience but believes there is no substitute for hard work.
"I don't think anyone has been able to achieve what I have in such a short time. So, time doesn't matter how long you have been there, it is the hard work that counts."