2011 throws up new boxing stars as London Games beckon

Updated: 21 December 2011 15:11 IST

A record number of them booked Olympic berths in the very first qualifying event as Indian boxers rounded off yet another superb year, holding out promise for more than one medal at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza next year.

2011 throws up new boxing stars as London Games beckon
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New Delhi:

A record number of them booked Olympic berths in the very first qualifying event as Indian boxers rounded off yet another superb year, holding out promise for more than one medal at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza next year.

The year did not feature many big events but wherever they competed in, Indian pugilists continued their ascending march in the international arena with commanding performances, the best of all being the World Championships where relatively unknown names came into spotlight.

A 19-year-old Vikas Krishan (69kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg) and another teen L Devendro Singh (49kg) booked their London berths at the mega-event, which was the first Olympic qualifying event for boxing.

The quartet sensationally beat some tougher opponents to fulfill the qualification criteria of at least reaching the quarterfinals but it didn't stop at just that as Vikas went a step further to fetch a bronze medal at the event in Baku.

The Haryana-boxer ensured that like the 2009 edition, when Vijender Singh (75kg) got a historic bronze, India had a medal to show at the World Championships.

The performance was undoubtedly the highlight of the year for Indian boxing as the pugilists spent most of the 2011 in the national camp in Patiala aside from a few training-cum-competition trips to countries such as Cuba.

"No one expected four of them to qualify for the Olympics from the World Championships because it had never happened before. In the last World Championships before the Olympics, we had just one boxer making the cut. So, it was a fantastic performance this time and certainly the highlight the year for Indian boxing," national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu said while assessing the year gone by.

But it was a forgettable 2011 for the biggest name in Indian boxing, Vijender Singh. The middleweight boxer entered a new phase on the personal front by tying the knot in May but faced disappointment inside the ring.

His career had only peaked ever since the breakthrough bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but in 2011, the 25-year-old fell at the first hurdle in World Championships even though he did manage a gold medal at the World Police Games and a silver at the Arafura Games in Australia.

But none of these medals could wipe off the World Championships disappointment when he lost in the very first round to his Olympic nemesis Emilio Correa Bayeux of Cuba.

The former world number one, who was ousted from the international rankings after the World Championship debacle, will now have to wait until the second Olympic Qualifying event next year to book his London ticket.

Another big name who endured a disappointing year was Suranjoy Singh (52kg). The 'Chhota Tyson' from Manipur, who won a sensational seven back-to-back gold medals in 2009-10, couldn't qualify for the Olympics from the World Championships and was not seen in action for much of the remaining year.

But even as Vijender and Suranjoy disappointed, some new names hogged the limelight with Vikas being top of the lot.

The 19-year-old, who has grown up idolizing Vijender, grew further in stature after making quite an impression with a gold medal at the Asian Games last year - incidentally his maiden senior international event.

He jumped a couple of divisions from light weight (60kg) to welterweight (69kg) just a couple of months before the World Championships but adjusted magnificently to clinch a medal at an event, where the size of the draw is bigger than even Olympics.

And riding on this performance, he rose to world number two, becoming the highest-placed Indian in the international rankings, in fact the only one inside top-20 of any weight division.

For Devendro, also 19, the World Championship was his maiden senior international tournament but he hardly showed any nerves and even though he lost in the quarters, it was a laudably spirited effort by the baby-faced boxer from Manipur.

Another youngster, who held out promise for future was 19-year-old Shiva Thapa (56kg).

The Assam-boxer beat a reigning world champion in the final of his maiden senior international event in Serbia to clinch gold and stake his claim in the national team in a category that has been dominated by former Commonwealth Games champion Akhil Kumar.

In the biennial Asian Championships in August, where Suranjoy ended a 15-year wait for a gold medal in 2009, India ended with a silver and two bronze medals this time as the country chose to send a second-string team due to the World Championships the very next month.

The women boxers, meanwhile, had a largely uneventful year as they geared up for the Olympic qualifiers next year.

Five-time world champion M C Mary Kom competed in an Olympic test event in London but in a disappointing turn of events, lost in the first round itself.

Professional boxing also knocked on the country's door with the Mumbai-based Transstadia India Boxing Pvt Ltd clinching the Indian franchise for the World Series of Boxing.

Christened the 'Mumbai Fighters', the team made its WSB debut this year with Akhil, Asian Championships bronze-medalist Jitender Kumar and some other names, who have decent performances at the amateur level to their credit.

The WSB, featuring five-round bouts, has been a mixed bag for India so far and it remains to be seen how the Mumbai Fighters match up to other international teams as the competition heats up in the coming months.

In final analysis, 2011 can be summed up as a reasonably good year for Indian boxing. With the focus on next year's Olympics, the coming few months would be crucial as the boxers brace up to fill up the last available slots for the Games, where the country would be expecting more than just a bronze this time.

Topics : Boxing Olympics 2012
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