New Delhi: Manju Rani is sitting on the stage set up inside the IG Indoor Stadium conference hall where the felicitation ceremony of the World Boxing Championships medallists is taking place. The stage is small in size but big from Manju's perspective. She is all of 19 and has returned from Russia with a silver medal in the 48 kg weight class on her World Championships debut. This is India's first silver at the Championships in 18 years. When Mary Kom clinched it in 2001, Manju was just one-year-old.
Beside Rani is Jamuna Boro, another World Championship debutant with a medal in her first outing. The Assamese grabbed bronze in the 54 kg weight class. Both these boxers competed in the non-Olympic categories and despite the brilliant show, their chances of making the cut to the Tokyo Olympics are far-fetched as there is tough competition for the Olympic classes among the senior boxers. However, their accomplishments make sure India's fuel-tank in women's boxing is full.
The two pugilists clinched their maiden medals at World Championships in the first attempt but have other things in common as well. Both of them have had their fair share of struggles to bring the attention of the world at them. The fact that their mothers have played a huge role in making them what they are today is another similarity in their journeys. Also, both idolise Mary Kom who became their inspiration at some stage in their lives. Importantly, both are not completely satisfied with the result at the Worlds.
"I am happy for the bronze as I had worked hard for this medal. But not entirely satisfied. I could have done better. I played an attacking game with most of the boxers. But it could not come off well in the semi-finals," Jamuna told Firstpost on the sidelines of the felicitation ceremony.
"I would have been happier if this was gold," said Manju who quickly added that she is happy to become the first Indian woman boxer to clinch a silver 18 years after Mary Kom won it.
The fact that two out of the five debutants who went to Russia brought medals is heartening for India head coach Mohammed Ali Qamar as well. Qamar told Firstpost, "Some of our medalists from the last World Championships had to change weight class for the Olympics and eventually they lost in the trials. That is how these young boxers came into the picture. It's great to see them perform so well." He added that now there is a strong pool of boxers and this will boost the competition.
Back on the stage, Manju was still busy giving back-to-back interviews and loving each and every bit of the fame that has come her way.
"I feel like a celebrity. This is the first time that so many people are waiting for my interview," Manju said with a smile. She admitted to fatigue, but added she has no problems standing and facing questions from the journalists gathered around her. "I am tired as well. We landed in the morning and have not got any rest at all. But I am enjoying this."
Who would not enjoy the moment? Especially Manju, who lost her father when she was just 10, and from there it was her mother and uncle who became a huge force in her boxing career. If the battle inside the ring was excruciating, outside of it, it was frustrating. Manju switched to Punjab from Haryana after being denied chances to represent the Rohtak team for two straight years. It was then that she switched to Punjab, and never looked back.
When the girl from Rithal village near Rohtak was assured of the bronze medal, her mother, who once wanted to sell her jewellery for Manju's boxing career, had tears in her eyes.
"My mother has struggled a lot. This is as big a medal for her as it is for me. She had tears in her eyes when I was assured of a medal," said Manju.
Tears and sweat have been part of Jamuna's journey as well. She started off as a wushu player before she was sent to a boxing trial. Jamuna recalled that she had no idea when the coach took her to a boxing selection camp. Because she was good at producing punches, she won in the trials and this is how her boxing career began. She was not supported by her father when she wanted to pursue boxing as a full-time career, but her mother kept Jamuna's dreams alive.
"My father never supported me. It was just my mother. I am here because of her but she has always backed me. I just wanted to play. I hardly had any idea of how important these medals were when I started off," said Jamuna.
At the India Open early this year, where Jamuna clinched the gold medal, her mother was present in the arena and hugged her with tears in her eyes.
Jamuna and Manju have clinched medals in abundance this year. Since making the cut in the senior team, the World Championship silver is Manju's fourth medal. She grabbed the silver at the prestigious Strandja Memorial in Sofia followed by a bronze at the India Open in May. In Thailand Open in July, she clinched another bronze. Similarly, Jamuna has had a good year so far, winning gold at India Open, President's Cup in Indonesia and now the bronze.
But despite the good show, the two boxers may not see the Olympic dream turning into reality soon. The wait will be longer, as coach Qamar suggested. Paris, it seems, is where that dream is. And these two have enough time in their hands to make it happen in 2024.
Updated Date: Oct 16, 2019 18:08:15 IST