India's boxing contingent ready for London
An unprecedented eight boxers - seven men and for the first time a woman - are headed to the British capital.
New Delhi: Four years ago, they were the Olympic surprise package that fascinated the country but cut to 2012 London, Indian boxers are the ones to watch out for as they seek to better the one bronze medal feat that Vijender Singh scaled in Beijing.
An unprecedented eight boxers -- seven men and for the first time a woman -- are headed to the British capital faced with sky-high expectations of over a billion-strong nation that is gradually beginning to realise its sporting potential.
The bunch, a mix of sprightly teens and experienced warhorses, has come through tough qualification events and seem to be in peak form going into the biggest sporting show on earth.
Vijender would be there making a record third Olympic appearance and the middle-weight (75kg) former world number one, who is also India's first World Championships medallist, would play the dual role of a competitor and a mentor for the younger lot.
M C Mary Kom (51kg), the feisty five-time world champion, will be India's sole representative when women's boxing makes its Olympic debut and given her mostly unchallenged domination in the ring over the past decade, she is among the strongest medal contenders.
The fact that she has to win just two bouts to be assured of a medal only adds to the high expectations from her.
And she is not short of motivation either as the 29-year-old mother-of-two could well bid adieu to the ring if she goes on to get a medal and cap a glittering career in which highs far exceed any lows that she might have endured.
Among the men, Vijender would also look to script history of his own by winning a medal in back-to-back Olympics.
The pin-up boy of Indian boxing came through an agonising qualification process during which he missed two chances before finally making the cut and he is determined to be remembered as the one who brought most medals rather than the one who made most appearances at the Olympics.
Joining Vijender will be boys whose Olympic dreams took wings after his bronze in Beijing.
One of them is Vikas Krishan (69kg), a fellow Haryanvi who has already emulated Vijender's bronze at the World Championships.
The 19-year-old, who started in the 60kg division, won an Asian Games gold medal (2010) before taking the massive risk of jumping two divisions with less than a year left for Olympics.
The gamble seems to have paid off as the former youth World Championships gold-medallist has made the transition effortlessely, besides finding time to attend to his college exams.
Another promising teen in the group is Assam's Shiva Thapa (56kg). The 19-year-old, who is a silver-medallist in the Youth World Championships, also seems to have had minimal trouble in graduating from youth to senior within a space of a few months.
He bagged a gold medal in his maiden senior international event, defeating a world champion in the finals to amaze even his coaches with his raw talent and spirit.
The spunky boxer, who has grown up idolising Mike Tyson, never thought that Olympics would happen so soon for him but now that the big break has been achieved, with a gold in the Asian Qualifying tournament, Shiva promises not to let the stage overwhelm him.
Joining him will be his best friend L Devendro Singh (49kg). The 20-year-old lion-hearted Manipuri could well be the dark horse of the team as he made the Olympic cut at no less than the World Championships where he out-punched some strong rivals before eventually losing in the quarterfinals.
Another teen to watch out for is Sumit Sangwan (81kg), who seems to have come from nowhere to displace the much-established Dinesh Kumar and make the light heavyweight division his own with a gold at the Asian Olympic qualifiers.
The 18-year-old Haryana-lad is a strong bet in a category in which India has never quite done well in the past but he is adamant that there is only excitement heading into London and not the usual nervousness that comes with the thought of being at such a big stage.
Jai Bhagwan (60) and Manoj Kumar (64kg) are the seasoned campaigners in the group and with a wealth of experience under their belt, the duo would look to make the most of their biggest break at the international level.
While Manoj had clinched a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Jai is a former Asian Championships silver medallist.
Their capability and experience put aside, the luck factor would also have a role to play when the draws come out on July 27, a day before the competition starts.
But as the adage goes 'luck favours only the brave' and it holds true in totality in a sport which is also called the "showbusiness of blood".