Vijender and Co. promise medal rush at Commonwealth Games
New Delhi: Their punches have had such a resonance in the past two years that expectations are bound to be sky-high when Indian boxers, led by the effervescent Vijender Singh and the experienced Akhil Kumar, step into the ring aiming for at least half-a-dozen medals at the Commonwealth Games this October.
For all their success in the past two years, Indian boxers have managed just two gold medals -- Akhil (2006) and Mohammad Ali Qamar (2002) -- in the Commonwealth Games record books but the sport has not been the same ever since Vijender clinched the historic Olympic bronze in Beijing.
Indians have not returned empty-handed from any major international tournament since then and if the form continues, there could well be another medal rush in the offing at the Talkatora Stadium come October.
Leading the charge would be middle-weight world number one Vijender. The strapping six-footer from a Haryana small-town is undoubtedly the face of the Indian boxing and one of the few millionaire sportspersons outside cricket.
The first Indian boxer to clinch a World Championship medal, when he won the bronze in Milan last year, Vijender will be the cynosure of all eyes when he would fight to better the silver that he won in the previous Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
"I like the spotlight. I like being the focus. I have learnt to deal with the pressure that comes with expectations. It doesn`t intimidate me. In fact, I enjoy it," said the 24-year-old, who was conferred the country`s highest sporting honour -- the Khel Ratna -- last year.
At the Commonwealth Championships, which give an indication of the level of competition to come at the Games, Vijender had little trouble getting past opponents to clinch the gold this March despite the fact that he fought with a bleeding nose in the final bout.
"I got a silver medal the last time around but I am not the same boxer anymore. I am more confident about myself and that will show in my performance also, especially when I will have my own people cheering for me," said the nimble-footed boxer, who is one of the six brand ambassadors of the event.
While for Vijender the Games are an opportunity to go a step up on the podium, for Akhil the event is a challenge to hold on to what he has already achieved.
Injuries sustained in the past two years have failed to deter him and he is back in the team to defend what was India`s only boxing gold in Melbourne.
Ranked number 10 in the world, the 28-year-old bantam weight (56kg) pugilist will have to dig from his experience against fresh talent such as England`s Iain Weaver, the 20-year-old who beat him in the very first round of the Commonwealth Championships in March.