x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Indian boxing team pack more of a punch at Olympics

The seven-man squad has medal hopes for London 2012.

Vijender Singh of India salutes after beating Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan during the men's 75kg boxing final competition against Zhang Jiawei of China at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou on November 26, 2010. AFP PHOTO
Vijender Singh of India salutes after beating Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan during the men's 75kg boxing final competition against Zhang Jiawei of China at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou on November 26, 2010. AFP PHOTO

Having walked the ramp for leading fashion designers following his Olympic bronze at Beijing in 2008, Vijender Singh is the cynosure of most eyes as India send a seven-man boxing squad to the London Games.

Blas Fernandez, the Cuban coach who has been more than a mentor to Indian boxers for 22 years, reckons he remains the country's best bet for a medal, but following success at Asian and world level, there is far greater depth than before.

Vijender will compete in the 75kg category, but there is as much excitement over the 18-year-old Shiva Thapa, a youth Olympics silver medallist in 2010 who will contest the 56kg division.

Much is also expected from Sumit Sangwan (81kg). Vijender and Sangwan both come from Haryana, the north Indian state now considered India's answer to Cuba after the remarkable progress of its boxers. With Jai Bhagwan, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan also having qualified, Haryana provides five of the men's squad.

The one dark cloud is the absence of Akhil Kumar, the most senior and, according to Fernandez, gifted of the group. The bantamweight, failed to lose weight in time for the qualifying competition in Kazakhstan this April.

While so much of the hype surrounds the men's team and the Haryana angle, India's best hope of a gold could lie with a woman - Mangte Chungneijang Merykom, or Mary Kom.

She only took up boxing at the age of 17 and despite a two-year sabbatical a few years ago, the mother of two is already a five-time world champion. Having won her last world title at 48kg, Mary Kom will switch to 51kg going into the Olympic qualifiers later this month.

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