New Delhi: The only Indian boxer to have qualified for this year's Olympics so far, Shiva Thapa today said the 'Road to Rio' has been the toughest journey of his career till date even though he has shut his mind to the myriad problems that engulf the sport in the country.
The 22-year-old Assam boy, who last year became only the third Indian boxer ever to clinch a World Championship bronze, won a silver medal and more importantly an Olympic quota berth at the just-concluded Asia/Oceania Zone Qualifiers in Qian'an, China.
With this, the world No.6 in bantamweight category is set for his second successive Olympic appearance after making his debut back in 2012 as an 18-year-old. At that time, he became the youngest Indian boxer ever to have qualified for the quadrennial extravaganza, winning a sensational gold medal in the qualifiers.
"This time, it's been mentally more challenging and certainly the toughest of my career. I had a point to prove, deep inside perhaps I was very angry and wanted to show what I could do," Shiva told PTI in an interview.
"That's why when I won the semi-final bout, which assured me of an Olympic spot, I let out a huge scream in the ring. It was a lot of pent up emotions which came out. I don't need to say how tough it has been for us in India because of all that has happened in the last few years and it was such a relief to qualify and beat the circumstances," he said.
India has been without a national federation for almost a year now after Boxing India was terminated following a rebellion by state units. That termination was a continuation of the turmoil that engulfed the sport in 2012 when the erstwhile Indian Amateur Boxing Federation was dissolved owing to manipulation in elections.
As a result, Indian boxers are competing under the International Boxing Association (AIBA) flag and could even be barred by the world body from Olympics if a national federation does not take shape by May 14.
Asked if this AIBA threat plays on his mind, the former Asian champion simply breaks into laughter.
"I don't think about it and I am being honest here. That's the best possible way to deal with it, I just shut my mind to all this. Everybody knows we boxers have gone through a lot and still managed to perform. So, it's best not to think about it too much," he said.
The Rio ticket in his pocket, Shiva says he would work out his training plan after taking a break for the next few days.
"I need to switch off for some time now. It's very important and after that I would decide the next course of action. I would definitely be travelling abroad for training but it isn't decided where it would be as of now. The one thing that I would be working on probably is my aggression," he said.
"I am a much more aggressive boxer now but I have to ensure that I never go overboard. Because if you lose control over aggression, you will end up looking absolutely silly inside the ring," he explained.
The last time he qualified for the Olympics, Shiva was part of a seven-strong group spearheaded by the much celebrated Vijender Singh, who is now plying his trade with success in the professional circuit.
From a greenhorn to a potential spearhead this time, Shiva said he is ready for the new responsibilities.
"I am aware that there would be pressure this time and I am ready for it. I am much more comfortable with the spotlight and the big stage doesn't unnerve me anymore.
"I have fought against a variety of opponents whether it was the World Championships or the Asian Qualifiers and that has helped my confidence and growth," he said.
The Indian boxers' next and final shot at Olympic qualification will come in June during an AIBA event, which would also be thrown open to pro-boxers.