Posted On Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 08:41:03 AM
Kuch nahin badla. Main wahi chaar saal pehle wala Vijender hoon.” (Nothing has changed. I am still the same Vijender from four years ago)
You want to believe him. You really do but you know Vijender Singh has for all purposes changed. In 2008 Vijender had the ring, now he has everything; the shimmering white SUV, the expensive gadgets, the celebrity status, the soft drink commercials and of course his poster on the walls.
But you know what he means. In the ring, you’re only as good as your last bout. You have to always respect your beginnings, you always have to be grounded. So what might appear as a attempt at humility is really Vijender’s way of simplifying the roller coaster ride his life has been since the last four years, since the day he won bronze at the Olympics.
He might have changed but it’s what he has changed that matters more now that the Olympics is just days away. His medal has given every aspiring boxer the belief that was missing from the land.
His punches in Beijing not only dented his opponents but also tore down the shackles that held back the sport in India. He sees ‘this change’ for himself.
As he begins with a small session of shadow-boxing he takes a look around and sees the confidence on all the faces around him. Slowly he side-steps, ducks, throws a combination of punches and realises that training is now being done in an a/c hall.
Change in the mindset
“It’s a mindset change really. When we started the seniors used to tell us that participating was enough and that winning a medal was out of our reach. They would scare us by throwing names in our faces and telling us that this opponent was unbeatable or that we had a tough draw,” says Vijender.
“Now I look at these kids and they have this fire within them. They have seen me win and now they want to do it for themselves. You can see that they are not afraid of anyone. This has been the big change in the last four years,” he says.
However, it’s his journey from one Olympics to the next that has been the most interesting. It began with a bang. His killer hooks combined with his looks made him the perfect page 3 candidate. Critics were waiting to hurl in the punches but he kept winning. The bronze in the World Championship reaffirmed that he was India’s best in the ring.
Dealing with critics
However, critics jumped at the first sign of failure at the Commonwealth games. What is fame without the detractors. He was called arrogant, he was called lazy. He failed to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and people said that his lack of patience and his over confidence will be his downfall.
“It was then in training that I felt the weight of expectations for the first time. That was when I started asking myself ‘what if’. I started yoga, changed my outlook and trained hard before the Asian Games to win gold there.”
That was also the time he decided to stop listening to people and even some other boxers who may have been friendly at face but would trash him the moment he turned the other way. “The criticism never stopped. They said I won’t be able to qualify for the Olympics. I did leave it to the end but that is just the way I do stuff.”
The Indian boxing team will reach England on Friday and that will give him a fortnight before his first bout to adjust to the English conditions. Stardom also means that he is not an unknown any longer and other boxers will ready for him.
“There will be some pressure this time. People have seen me more since the Games and they have analyzed my fighting style. I, however, have not really changed anything. The aim is to win the gold and to be as aggressive as possible.”
Sandhu to quit as coach
Having served as national coach for close to two decades during which India produced its first Olympic medallist in boxing, Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu is retiring after London Games and the only farewell gift he wants from his wards is to bring home better than the bronze Vijender Singh notched up in Beijing four years ago.
The 59-year-old, who was first appointed senior national coach in 1993, said he would leave a satisfied man if the unprecedented seven-strong contingent training under his tutelage goes on to improve upon the one bronze performance in 2008 Olympics that changed the face of Indian boxing.
“I am anyways retiring next year as an NIS coach because I would have touched 60. But even otherwise I don't wish to continue beyond London. Hopefully I will do it with a better coloured medal. I have enjoyed my career immensely and I am a very satisfied man,” Sandhu said.
“The Indian Boxing Federation elections are due later this year and whether I continue as national coach would be their call but I would personally want to step down after London,” he said.
Sandhu said, “ "There used to be a time when these boys would not even have cycles but today they flash the best of imported cars. I feel so happy to see this change.” - PTI