After a lapse of four years, sports lovers all over the world will be looking forward to the spectacular performances of the athletes at the 2016 Olympics. This year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has included some sports which are conventionally not included in the list of events — women hockey and golf. In addition, the IOC has also allowed the participation of professional boxers in the Olympic boxing event to make it more attractive.
Although India’s performance at the Olympics has never been of top quality, boxers have put up a good show in the recent past. Vijender Singh was the first Indian boxer to earn an Olympic medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, followed by MC Mary Kom at London in 2012. Both earned a bronze medal each.
At Rio 2016, only three boxers will be representing India – namely Shiva Thapa in 56 kg, Manoj Kumar in 64 kg and Vikas Krishan in 75 kg categories. Comparatively, the number of Indian boxers were much higher at Beijing 2008 (five) and London 2012 (eight.) A higher number of participants does enhance medal hopes, therefore the chances of reaching the podium will be slim for Indian boxers in Rio.
The current state of affairs in the Indian boxing federation is directly responsible for this low representation. As of now, the federation is under suspension and there is no sign of revival. There has been no National Championships for years, which would ultimately affect the country's boxers. If the situation continues, a longer suspension may jeopardise the boxing sport in the country.
When it comes to boxing at the Olympics, Cubans are the most formidable side with seven medals in Beijing and four in London. They also hold an enviable track records in Olympic boxing for the last 50 years or so. In Asia, China, Kazakhstan, and Thailand are known for their boxing might, whereas among European nations, Great Britain, Russia, France, and Italy will be the force to be reckoned with.
The draw in boxing (as to who would box with whom) is done by a lot, which sometimes results in a strong boxer losing at the preliminaries. If two good boxers from a weight category are drawn to box in the very first bout, one medal hopeful will be eliminated right at beginning. Boxing does not have a system of seeding, like many other sports, prior to any tournament and all boxers are placed on equal footing from day one.
Looking at the past and present performances of the three Indian boxers qualified for the Olympics, it would be difficult to predict if they will be among the medal winners. Inclusion of professional boxers for the event is another point to be kept in mind. But as all Indian boxers will be entering the Olympic ring for a second time, they will possess additional advantage of past experience.
Shiva Thapa (56 kg), a boxer of Nepalese origin, who hails from Assam, was the youngest boxer at the London Olympics. His most sizzling performance was when he defeated Delakliev Detalin of Bulgaria (then World champion and World number two) in Belgrade in 2011. Shiva has been the Asian Champion twice in 2012 and 2013. He won a silver medal at the Asia–Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament in April this year to secure his Olympic ticket. Fleet-footed Shiva is nursing a great desire to win an Olympic medal and has good chances of achieving that goal.
Manoj Kumar, the Haryana boy who represents Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB) in national boxing, took to the sport under the tutelage of his elder brother Rajesh Kumar. An Arjuna Awardee, Manoj is presently world number six in the Welterweight division. At 29, he is the eldest among the three pugilists representing India in Rio. His biggest achievement in international boxing has been a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. He also won a bronze medal in the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Azerbaijan this year. He will have strong pugilists to face from all continents in his weight category, and though he has improved his boxing skill considerably, he still has an outside chance of winning a medal.
Vikas Krishan, who also hails from Haryana and represents All India Police (AIP) at the national level, will be contesting in the 75 kg middleweight category, in which Vijender Singh won the bronze medal. Vikas lost in the pre-quarter final bout against an American boxer following a controversial decision at the London Games and stayed away from boxing for one and half years. He came back to the ring with a vengeance and an aim to win an Olympic medal. His highest achievement in the international arena has been a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2010. His secured his Rio berth after winning a bronze medal at the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Azerbaijan in 2016. Since 2015, he has participated in six international boxing competitions which have helped him get ready for Rio. His coach Jagdeep Hooda, a former international boxer, has high hope from Vikas. He will have a fair chance of reaching the medal stage if he uses his long reach judicially and has the luck of a favorable draw.
Winning or losing are two sides of a coin, but a spectacular performance will be most important. If one performs well, the medal will invariably be at close range and therefore emphasis should be on performance and not on a medal alone. However, as Indian boxers have rich experience of performing at the international level of boxing and are physically and mentally fit, a medal will be expected. The entire nation will be looking forward to their bouts.
The author has been involved with boxing in India for 25 years, during which times he has held the positions of secretary-general and vice-president of the IBF. He is also a qualified international referee and judge.