Indian boxers deal with a weighty issue ahead of CWG

Sarjubala Devi, who won the world youth championship gold and world championship silver in light flyweight (48kg), is contesting her first international meet in the category above.

Shiva Thapa, who moved from 56kg to 60kg, won silver at the Asian championships last year.

With the Commonwealth and Asian Games approaching fast, the ongoing India Open invitational is proving to be a testing ground for Indian boxers looking to punch above their weight. Sarjubala Devi, who won the world youth championship gold and world championship silver in light flyweight (48kg), is contesting her first international meet in the category above.

“I won the Nationals earlier this month at 51kg. But here I’m facing boxers from other countries so you can’t take it easy,” said Sarjubala, who assured India of a medal by outclassing Kenya’s Christine Ongare on Monday.

“At 51 kg, one difference I can see is that I’ll be facing boxers taller than me. There’s also the difference of power. But even I’m trying to get my power up with the weight, so it shouldn’t be that much of a problem.”

While the 24-year-old from Manipur admits it will make cutting weight easier, coach Raffaele Bergamasco hinted at a more compelling reason behind the switch: freeing up 48kg for Mary Kom.

“Sarjubala is very strong. But in this moment I have Mary Kom (in the 48kg category), so I approved the switch. That way you have two strong prospects in both categories,” said the Italian, who guided India to seven medals at November’s youth world championship before being appointed the performance director for the senior team. “Sarjubala is a little short for 51kg, but is young and quick. So if there comes a time when we have to ask Mary to rest for a tournament, or the time when she is not around, Sarjubala can come down again. She is that good in either category.”

Despite an Olympic bronze and a bronze and gold at the Asian Games in the 51kg category, Mary has admittedly struggled with putting on the extra three kilos. A return to her natural weight category fetched the 35-year-old her fifth Asian Championships gold in November.

While the two wins this week at the Thyagaraj Stadium have been decidedly unremarkable, the signs are good for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, which will feature the 48kg category. There are, however, no plans yet for debuting the division at the Asian Games in August or the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, even though Bergamasco remains hopeful.

“There are very strong proposals for that. I’m very confident that they will expand the categories from three to five,” he said.

For seasoned Shiva Thapa and Manoj Kumar, a jump in weight classes at the national championship in December 2016 has been fruitful so far. Thapa, who moved from 56kg to 60kg, won silver at the Asian championships last year but admits matching the power of heavier boxers wasn’t easy with his lean frame.

“The skills were there, but I had to work on endurance and power. For that I faced opponents from higher weights. I feel comfortable at 60kg now and it’s easier maintaining the weight,” said the 24-year-old.

Manoj, who has had strong showings at invitational tournaments in the 69kg category along with the gold at Nationals, believes there are fewer injury scares now.

“I lost so many quarterfinals at 64kg. Weight tod tod ke zyaada injuries aane lag gayi thi,” says the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist. “The target has always been an Olympic medal. I couldn’t do it at 64. So now, it’s all about being injury-free and safe at 69kg.”

Ready for change

For Gaurav Bidhuri — the World championship bronze medallist who has had to sit out the India Open due to illness — switching weight classes has been the mantra throughout his career.

“Till 2012 I fought at 49kg. Then I switched to 52 till 2016. Last year I switched to 56kg and ended my streak of quarterfinals defeats,” says Bidhuri. “Weight management is everything in boxing. I can’t say about others but I took the decision because I believe If you stay at one weight for too long, it can be harmful for your body. I might switch again in the future if I feel the need.”

One boxer who has no intentions of switching anytime soon is world youth gold-medallist Sachin Siwach. While his lanky frame of 5’9″ gives him superior reach in the 49kg division, it also makes him prime for a move up the divisions. For now, the 18-year-old is committed to being a light flyweight, chalking his first-round defeat instead to inexperience.

“The skills are the same in youth. But the experience of older boxers gives them an advantage,” says Siwach. “I’ve just started in the senior competition. I’ll think of changing my weight if I can’t control it. For now, it’s facing the older guys.”

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five + two =