Missed by a whisker! Debutant Manju Rani‘s fairytale run at the AIBA 2019 Women’s World Boxing Championship ended with a hard-fought silver medal which she earned after going down 1-4 against Russia’s second-seeded boxer Ekaterinal Paltceva in the summit clash on Sunday in Ulan Ude, Russia.
The Haryana-boxer, who was seeded sixth, was the lone Indian to make the finals after six-time champion MC Mary Kom (51kg), Jamuna Boro (54kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) settled for bronze medals. In the case of Borgohain, it was her second successive third-place finish.
There was very little separating Rani and her rival, both of whom looked to attack in the first round. The Russian stood out for her near-perfect left hooks in the opening three minutes. In the second round, the Indian connected some good straights and seemed to have the upper hand over the Russian.
In the final round, both the boxers adopted a cautious approach. There was quite a bit of holding, which led to referee’s intervention. However, in the end, the Russian emerged victorious. The Indian contingent was, however, visibly upset after the Paltceva’s hand was raised as the victor.
In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, the chief coach for the country’s women pugilists, Mohammed Ali Qamar said:
When asked about the pep talk she was given before the match, Qamar quipped, “We just kept Manju motivated as she already had her dream form by her side. We told her that this was the last match and she has to deliver her best. She even did that, but the decision turned out to be unfortunate.”
Manju, who is turning 20 on Saturday, has come a long way in 2019. In January, in her maiden attempt, Manju clinched the gold medal at the senior national boxing championship in Vijayanagar. It was followed by a silver medal at the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria — also her maiden international outing. Then she went on to win two bronze medals in the India Open and Thailand Open. Talking about Manju’s overall performance, Qamar added, “Manju’s year has shaped up brilliantly. This particular tournament has been an eye-opener. She went on to beat even the top-seeded player. She has punched above her expectation, and we can say the future looks even brighter for her.”
Qamar was the first Indian to win Commonwealth Games gold medal in boxing in 2002 and has taken over as chief coach for the country’s women pugilists in January, becoming the youngest ever to get the top job. In addition, the Arjuna awardee has helmed the Railways Sports Promotion Board’s women’s team for more than three years. The Kolkata native, who has been working alongside Italian coach Raffaele Bergamasco praises Manju style of play.
Manju, however, will have to wait for some time to fulfil her Olympic dreams as her pet 48kg category is no more in the Olympics. The 48kg category was also the pet weight category for India’s boxing legend Mary Kom, who shifted in 51kg category to ensure a chance at the Olympics. When asked whether Manju will be taking the same course of action, Qamar concluded, “Not right now, we have Mary Kom in the category and Manju has just started her career. She will try her best to gain more experience and exposure in the 48kg category. Maybe, she will be Olympics ready by 2024.”
Manju will, however, continue to train with the seniors in the national camps and ensure she is always at her best in the tournaments that are supposed to happen next.