New Delhi:The coveted Olympic medal eluded him for the second successive time but boxer Akhil Kumar on Tuesday said he has not lost the motivation to continue and would make his third bid for a podium finish at London 2012.
The 27-year-old pugilist, who would be 31 by the time the next edition of the Games takes place, said he would work on his fitness to keep himself in contention for London.
"Make no mistake, I will be there for London. I have the motivation and I am very confident of being fit enough for the 2012 Olympics," the bantam weight (54kg) boxer, who created quite a flutter in Beijing by beating world champion Sergey Vodopyanov before losing in the quarterfinals, told PTI in an interview.
Missing out on the Olympic medal, which could so easily have been his, had he beaten his lower-ranked Moldovan opponent in the quarterfinals, still hurts him but Akhil said learning from defeat is what makes a great athlete.
"Yes it was heartbreaking. Reaching so far and then not getting the medal is agonising but you have to learn and move on. It is behind me and I have to refocus myself for the task ahead," he said.
"But it is still a great achievement that for the first time five boxers reached the Olympics, three of them made the quarterfinals and one (Vijender Singh) went on to win the bronze medal. I am happy that boxing is finally on the front pages of newspapers and making headlines on news channels.
"As an Indian athlete, there can be no greater pleasure than seeing an Olympic sport being received so warmly by the people. But hopefully we won't be forgotten after these celebrations are over," Akhil added with a hint of sarcasm.
Akhil's defeat in the quarterfinals was stunning, considering that he had beaten the world champion, but he said he did all that he could against an opponent who simply shut himself for most of the bout.
"I tried everything, I fought my heart out. No athlete wants to lose but everyone should have the stomach for debacles. I gave my best and although I lost, I can hold my head high in pride," Akhil said.
The medal slipped out of his hands but the Haryana lad earned the admiration of many for his daredevil style of fighting with his guard down, a tactic that also invited criticism after he lost the quarterfinals.
"I don't regret my tactics. I have always fought like this and would continue to do so, no matter what people say. I beat the world champion with those very tactics and nobody said anything at that time. In fact I got congratulated for being fearless.
"It was only when I lost, that the criticism started. But I am not bothered. It is like being a hero one day and a zero the next, I have been through all this and it doesn't affect me," he added.
On how he looked back at his second Olympic tryst, Akhil said, "This Olympics earned me a lot of respect and for the first time, I was asked for an autograph, which surprised me.
People wanted to know about me, talk to me... I mean this is the kind of recognition that you crave for as a sporteperson."
Seen as a motivator by his teammates, Akhil says he enjoys handing out tips to his juniors and keeps them in high spirits ahead of their bouts.
"It comes naturally to me. I love getting involved with my teammates and I am always there for them. Moreover, whenever I speak to them or teach them anything, I also learn all over again," he said.
In fact his teammates count their blessings at having a senior like Akhil around for the sheer determination he instills in them.
"He is the senior most member and acts like one. Talks to us, hands out tips. A wonderful friend and motivator," said Vijender (75kg), the bronze medallist in Beijing.
"Akhil's role goes far beyond what he does inside the ring, he is a person, who has always been there for us. He teaches tactics very well and would make a great coach after he hangs up his gloves," said Akhil's prodigy Jitender Kumar (51kg), who also reached the quarters at his maiden Olympics.
"When we see him fight, his fearless approach, it gives us confidence. Even talking to him is a great help ahead of a bout," AL Lakra, who crashed out in the first round, added.
"I owe my career to him because he promoted me and got me in spotlight in the federation," Dinesh Kumar (81kg) stated.