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Boxing | Amateur

Vijender Singh © Reuters Images

Boxing's pin-up boy resets focus

It took one man and one Olympic Games medal to change the status of boxing in India.

Now the spotlight is on Vijender Singh and his team-mates to do well at the London Olympics this year.

Since Singh won that middleweight bronze medal in Beijing four years ago, the image of the sport in India has improved drastically. And Singh has become a celebrity in a country obsessed with cricket and celebrities.

In Singh, Indian boxing has found the face to match the fists that were so essential in raising the sport's profile.

Singh is all too aware of how important it is for the country’s boxers to build on that success.

“Beijing did change a lot of things for us," the pin-up boy of Indian boxing said at the sauna-like boxing hall of Delhi's Karnail Singh Stadium this week.

"More sponsors stepped in and money started coming in. If we win more medals in London, I know things would become even better," he said before flying to Kazakhstan for an Olympic qualifying tournament.

"I'm one hundred per cent sure it will be better than Beijing. Sumit (Sangwan), Vikas (Krishan Yadav) and Devendro (Singh) are all medal prospects. These are the best we have and I know we'll do well in London."

Yadav (welterweight) and Devendro Singh (light-flyweight) are among the four Indians who have already qualified for London. Sangwan (light-heavyweight), Vijender Singh and four others hope to secure their places in the team in Astana before April 13.

Singh's success in Beijing has made him Indian boxing first real celebrity but he insists he remains the same person he was before the last Olympics.

"Before, I could go and walk around Connaught Place (Delhi's business district) without being mobbed, which I cannot now.

"But Beijing has not changed my life as much as some people think," he said.

His claim is contradicted by the 26-year-old's occasional appearances on television shows and catwalks. He is also frequently seen hobnobbing with Bollywood celebrities.

However, Singh has now set aside such distractions to focus on a second Olympic medal. He knows it will be considerably tougher than in Beijing, where he rose from obscurity.

"We all study opponents but I suspect we forget most of it once we enter the ring," he said.

"People have studied me before as well but that does not mean I have not won since Beijing," said Singh. He won a bronze medal at the 2009 world championship and was ranked No 1 in the world that year.

"I also watch the bouts of my opponents, study them and plan with my coach. I don't want to share my preparation details but I can assure all that I would not let my country down."


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