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Medal a tough ask for Indian pugilists

Abhijeet Kulkarni | July 31, 2004 15:33 IST

The exploits of Dingko Singh in the Bangkok Asian Games and Mohammad Ali Qamar's gold medal in the Manchester Commonwealth Games may have made the world take notice of the Indian pugilists but an Olympic medal at Athens appears a tough ask for the country's four-member boxing contingent.

The Indian team comprising Akhil Kumar (51kg), Diwakar Prasad (57kg), Vijender (61kg) and Jitender Kumar (81kg) have time and again showed that they are no pushovers but it would require them to produce near miracles to corner Olympic glory.

Though chief coach Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu exuded confidence that the pugilists would peak in terms of form at the mega event, he was quick to add they would need a good amount of luck in terms of draw if they were to entertain dreams of a medal.

"All our four boxers are shaping up well. We have our fingers crossed about the outcome but we can surely spring a surprise or two or even go further if we get a favourable draw," Sandhu said.

Jitender Kumar and Akhil Kumar booked their berths for the Athens Games during the second qualification tournaments held in Guangzhou, China while Vijender and Diwakar Prasad secured their places getting through the third qualifier held in Karachi.

The boxers were confidence personified enroute to the finals in the qualifiers but none of the four managed to win the gold and that was attributed to a lack of big stage temperament.

But since then the boxers have been working hard in the camp and also got some much needed international exposure against the world's top boxers.

In the pre-Olympic event at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall, in Athens, where the Olympic competition will be held, Vijender and Akhil Kumar showed that they had the skills and the agility to compete with the best winning bronze medals in their respective categories.

Diwakar Prasad also declared that he was ready for the big event winning a silver medal in the Grand Prix Boxing tournament in the Czech Republic earlier this month.

The four boxers had been practicing hard under the guidance of Sandhu and Cuban expert I B Fernandes at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala before shifting base to New Delhi for more focused "match-like practice".

"We are concentrating more on polishing combative skills in the final stage of preparations and working on speed,  footwork and quick reflexes against a variety of opponents for which we have shifted base to Delhi," Sandhu said.

The contingent, including Vijender, the youngest Indian boxer to qualify for the mega-event, is oozing with confidence and is getting ready for the big battle ahead.

Cuba, Russia and USA have been traditional power houses in this combat sports with the Asians making significant  inroads in the lower weight categories of late.

The Indians have proved themselves to be competitive against their Asian counterparts including Thailand and Kazakhstan in recent years.

In the flyweight category, Akhil, the Afro-Asian gold medallist, has dominated his opponents from Chinese Taipei,  Kazakhstan and North Korea and fought close bouts against those from Uzbekistan on his way to the four-yearly event.

Akhil has the confidence but a little more aggression can give him the edge.

Even Diwakar Prasad, winner of the bronze in SAF Games, holds an impressive record against the Mongolian, Turkmenistan, Jordanian and Thai rivals. The stout boxer is an intelligent campaigner and trades his punches from a safe distance to pile up the points.

It would be a superb learning experience for young Vijender on the Olympic stage. He never allows his opponents to settle down and the reticent Haryana-lad knows that he has performed well against boxers from Qatar and Pakistan. But he still needs to sharpen his punches and work on specific endurance and strength required in the light welter weight division.

Jitender, who would be featuring in the Olympics for the second time, has impressed with his quick movements against famous rivals from Iraq, Turkmenistan and Iran in the light heavy weight class.

Overall, the foursome would try their best to come out of their shell to get noticed on the big platform.

All said and done it would be the endurance and self belief of the boxers that will determine whether they would make a mark at Athens or come back quietly.

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