New Delhi:It's not everyday that an athlete emerges champion even in defeat.
On August 22, 2008 Vijender Singh did just that when he lost his semifinal bout at the Beijing Olympics but the bronze medal that he settled for was the first that any Indian boxer had managed in the world's biggest sporting event.
He completes a "life-changing" year since that feat tomorrow but Vijender says it is just like yesterday for him.
"It's amazing, a year has passed since I won the Olympic medal and what a year it has been. I still remember the days in Beijing very clearly, it's just like yesterday. Winning the Olympic bronze medal was the start of a new life for me.
Everything changed after that medal," the 23-year-old middle weight (75kg) boxer said.
"I lost the (semifinal) bout. It would have been nice to have won and ensured that India's first Olympic medal in boxing was gold," the Khel Ratna awardee added.
"But I am proud of what I achieved and the fact that it made such a difference to Indian boxing gives me immense happiness."
The road to Olympics was a bumpy one for Vijender as he had failed to qualify for the event in his first two attempts and was battling a nagging back problem going into the third and final qualifying tournament.
Vijender's last shot at Olympic qualification was at the second Asian Qualifiers in Kazakhstan. Perhaps marking a start of the good times that followed, Vijender didn't just qualify, he won a gold medal.
A couple of months before leaving for Beijing, he pulled off one of the biggest wins of his career by beating Athens Olympics gold medalist Bakhteyar Artayev in the President's Cup to clinch India's maiden medal ? a bronze ? in the tournament.
Before heading to Beijing, Vijender said he was confident but didn't want to make any tall claims.
"I wanted to prove it in the ring. I am happy that not just me but all the five boxers who went to Beijing made their mark. Beijing gave me memories that I will cherish my whole life," he said.
Once there, Vijender created such a buzz that even former world heavy weight champion Evander Holyfield sat through his bouts and even came looking for him after his semifinal loss.
"That's what you live for as a sportsperson... to get acclaimed by such greats," he said.
The day before the semifinals, he had picked up a calf muscle injury and the after-effects of a grueling first-round bout, in which he hurt his knee and collar bone, were still showing.
"Yes, there were injuries but I have never cited them as an excuse for my loss. I am happy with the performance I put in and let's give credit to the guy who won," Vijender said.
The strapping six-footer lost to Cuba's Emilio Correa Bayeux, who is now the world number one.
"There is no shame in losing if you know that you have given your best and I know I gave my 100 per cent. So, having gotten over the initial hurt, the defeat doesn't rankle me anymore," he said.
His life changed drastically after that and it's a change that has left him with mixed feelings.
"Felicitation after felicitation, getting recognised while walking on the streets was a whole new experience for me. It was hectic and tiring but who cares, I worked hard for it. So I am not going to complain," Vijender said.
"I feel blessed and also consider myself lucky that my hard work got me the results that I always wanted," he added.