Vijender Singh (75kg) became the first Indian boxer to qualify for the Olympic Games for a third successive time after reaching the semifinals of the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Astana, Kazakhstan on Sunday.
The first Indian to win an Olympic and World Championships medal -- bronze in both events -- Vijender outpunched Chuluuntumur Tumurkhuyag of Mongolia 27-17 to not just assure himself of an Olympic berth but also a medal at the ongoing tournament.
"I am back," were Vijender's first words while speaking to PTI from Astana after winning the crucial bout, a loss in which would have ended his hopes of making the London Games.
The 26-year-old had failed in his first attempt to book a ticket for London in last year's World Championships. "I have answered all my critics, who said that I was finished (after losing in the first round of World Championships)," said the former world number one, who was gasping for breath after a draining encounter.
Before the 2008 Beijing Games, Vijender had won gold at the Asian Qualifiers at that time, which incidentally were also held in Kazakhstan.
"I will now give it my all in the Olympics and prove that I am the best. It's such a relief to have got qualified. The fact that I am the first Indian boxer to have qualified for a third successive Olympics makes it all the more special," he said.
Vijender, a former World Championships bronze-medallist, had defeated Syria's Ishak Waez in his pre-quarterfinal bout after getting an opening-round bye.
"His fitness and endurance were a revelation in today's bout. He took me by surprise with the intensity with which he fought," said national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.
"I don't have words to describe how well he fought. It was a fantastic display by a proven talent," he added.
Vijender had lost in the preliminaries of 2004 Athens Games but went on to clinch a bronze in the Beijing edition.
With his qualification for London, Vijender became the fifth Indian boxer to book a berth for the mega event.
India already have four Olympic berths through L Devendro Singh (49kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) who grabbed their slots after reaching the quarterfinals of the World Championships last year.
Of these, Vikas went on to clinch a bronze in the biennial event -- only the second boxer after Vijender to achieve the feat.