Surprised and elated in equal measure after becoming the only boxer to be picked for the Arjuna Awards this year, the fast-rising Mandeep Jangra says he never expected to come this far given that not many, apart from his mentor Akhil Kumar, had faith in him. (Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal May Step in to End Boxing Impasse)
Speaking to PTI from Italy, where the 22-year-old is currently training for the upcoming Asian Championships scheduled later this month, Mandeep said he is more happy for his mentor than himself.
"He has more faith in me than anybody else and I am happy that his faith is being proved right. I never expected this award so early in my career but because Akhil bhai and his wife Poonam, who is my formative coach, I have managed to deliver because of their hard work," Mandeep said.
"Not many thought that I was good enough to compete at the highest level and I am happy to have proved the detractors wrong."
Akhil, a Commonwealth Games gold-medallist and a former Arjuna awardee, has mentored Mandeep since 2005 after being impressed by his talent in a camp in Pune.
Mandeep is currently a silver-medallist in the Asian Championships besides being a Commonwealth Games silver winner.
The welterweight (69kg) boxer would be attempting to better his silver at the Asian meet in the upcoming edition to be held in Bangkok from August 26. With the dates of the event clashing with the National Sports Awards ceremony on August 29, Mandeep won't be able to collect the trophy personally.
"When Akhil bhai recommended my name for the Arjuna this year, I was scared that if I don't win, he would feel more sad than me. But I am glad that has not happened," said Mandeep.
"Since I won't be able to collect the award on August 29, I want Akhil bhai to collect it on my behalf. I would take it from his hands after coming back," he added. Akhil, on his part, said he couldn't be happier as of now.
"It feels good that somebody you have nurtured is doing so well in life. I couldn't be more proud. You cannot put it in words, the feeling that you get after making a positive difference to somebody's life," he said.
"When he came into the scene, I remember not many gave him a chance. He was told on his face that he wasn't good enough but now the results are in front of everyone. One look at him in 2005 and i was so sure about his abilities. The daredevil style of fighting, for which he is often criticised, is actually his USP," he added.
Mandeep said the award will push him to aim higher.
"Obviously this award will help me improve. I am working hard and keeping my focus on short-term goals. Like right now, I am focusing on the Asian Championships, then the World Championships and then the Olympics. It's all step by step," he said.
"Hopefully this training stint in Italy would help in the coming tournaments," he added.