Turning Point: 'Olympic medal made me,' boxer Vijender Singh recounts the moment that changed his life
Boxer Vijender Singh went to the 2008 Olympics as an underdog and came home with a historic medal. 12 years later, he still feels his Beijing waltz was the turning point of his illustrious career.
Editor's Note: In every athletes' life comes a moment that flips his/her career around. A solitary slice of inspiration, a date with destiny, an important result, a wise word, the proverbial turning point may arrive in any shape or form and end up defining the said athlete. In Turning Point, Firstpost's latest weekly series, we look at some such moments.
It has been close to 12 years since Vijender Singh scripted history at the Beijing Olympics. By beating Ecuador's Carlos Góngora 9-4 in the quarter-finals of the 75 kg category, Vijender qualified for the semi-final, thereby assuring an Olympic medal for the country. Vijender eventually lost the semi-final bout against Emilio Correa of Cuba, but it didn't take the sheen away from a remarkable achievement. To win an Olympic medal is a special feat in itself, but to do it for a nation not known to produce many world-class Olympians made it incredibly special.
Vijender's medal, along with Abhinav Bindra's gold in shooting and wrestler Sushil Kumar's bronze was celebrated across the country. Three individual Olympic medals was then the highest count India had ever won in an Olympic Games. I t doesn't come as a surprise when Vijender picks the Beijing glory as his career's major turning point.
"For me, it is definitely the Olympic medal. Before 2008 Games, nobody knew me. That Olympic medal made me. It gave me a name, it gave me everything. So that is my career's biggest turning point," Vijender told Firstpost.
"Before the Olympics, I was already an Asian Games medallist (bronze in 2006 Doha Games) and a Commonwealth Games medallist (silver in 2006 Melbourne Games) but not many knew me. When I used to go out, nobody recognised me. It all changed after the Olympic medal. When I reached the airport, there were many people waiting for me. So yes, it was the turning point," Vijender added.
To an extent, Vijender's run in the campaign was surprising. In his words, Vijender was an underdog. Big results were expected of boxers Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar in the Olympics and therefore, there was less pressure on Vijender. He was also the last boxer to qualify for the mega event.
"That time, Akhil Kumar was in the limelight and he was everyone's favourite. Nobody was expecting that I would get a medal because I was the last one to qualify. I was clearly an underdog. I focussed on each bout at a time, not thinking much about the bigger picture. When I started winning, everybody started noticing and thought maybe I can end up getting a medal for the country. I never thought about getting the medal, I was just trying my best."
Both Akhil Kumar and Jitender put up valiant performances before losing their quarter-final bouts.
It is this approach, of not taking pressure and just doing the best, that has worked for Vijender throughout his life. A big believer in staying calm, he took a fancy to meditation before the 2008 Beijing Games and it played a vital role, more than the technical aspects, in his successful campaign.
"I was yet to qualify for the Olympics so that was creating a lot of pressure. I used to do a lot of meditation to remain calm and was just hoping that I first qualify. It helped me immensely," the 34-year-old recalled.
Obsessing about winning can have its merits and demerits and it is all about striking the right balance.
"Don't think about anything. Just give your best. Don't take the pressure of winning a medal. Just try your best and God will take care of rest of the things."
Vijender was only 22 when he won the Olympic medal and became an overnight sensation. In a country starved of Olympic success, Vijender received the kind of fame and adulation usually reserved for top cricketers. He became a part of popular culture thanks to his participation in ramp shows and taking up various endorsements. He even indulged in acting, featuring in a Hindi film 'Fugly'. It was surprising yet refreshing to see a non-cricketer claiming is ground.
Despite the new-found celebrity, Vijender knew his priorities. He went on to win a bronze medal at the 2009 AIBA World Championships and followed it up with more success at the 2010 Asian Games where he defeated the then world champion Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan to clinch gold. He also won medals in 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games.
At 34, Vijender is far from being done. He turned pro in 2015 and boasts an impressive 12-0 record. Looking back now, it is highly impressive to see what an 'underdog' has achieved. There have been many highs in his sporting career but the turning point, Vijender admits, arrived on that unforgettable day in Beijing.
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