Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Akhil Kumar is the Sun in the Universe of Boxing
By Leslie Ann Tripathy
Indian sport is today dominated by small town icons that have brought laurels for the nation. Akhil Kumar is a lion-hearted boxer from Uttar Pradesh, who cannot get over his addiction to the sport despite the injuries. Akhil Kumar reminded me of the Hemingway hero who can be destroyed but not defeated. For two years, despite Kumar’s best performance, a gold medal has been eluding him. Like a Kafkaesque hero he has not been able to fight destiny. But undeterred by the setbacks like Achilles, the valiant Akhil Kumar has his eyes set on winning an Olympic Gold for India in 2012.
Below are the excerpts from an interview Akhil Kumar (AK) gave to Leslie Ann Tripathy (LAT).
LAT: What are the upcoming matches you are looking forward to? How is your preparation going on?
AK: Well I am preparing for Asian boxing championship and World Championship that are to be held this September. Whoever wins in World Championship will be qualified to get into Olympics 2012. Preparations are going very well. The camps have started in Patiala.
LAT: In one of your interviews to TOI you said ‘good luck seems to have abandoned me’ what do you think led to a relative dip in your performance?
AK: My performance has always been good and if you noticed I have always lost performing well and have lost by one or two points. I am very hard working. I have defeated the best players in the game. In the interview to TOI, what I meant was I always work hard and always give my best shot but luck seems not to be on my side.
LAT: Do you think winning is important?
AK: Yes it is. After all everyone loves a winner. Everybody appreciates merit, and a sportsman is always under pressure to win. I think I am lucky. For the past two years I could not get Olympic and World championship medals. But despite that people love me.
LAT: How is your Olympic preparation going? What are you doing to improve your consistency? What are the new records you are setting your sight on?
AK: No sportsman ever plays to lose. Winning a gold medal is my goal now as India has so far won bronze only.
LAT: You seem to be happy about the inclusion of women boxing in the 2012 London Olympics…..
AK: Yes the inclusion of women’s boxing in 2012 Olympics is really good, because our game reflects the growth of our society where women are at the top winning laurels in every field. We have very good female boxers who are doing very well. This step is very good for the game.
LAT: Who are the female boxers according to you, are at the top of the game now?
AK: I haven’t followed women’s boxing. Without seeing their training, I think it is unwise to judge them. MC Mary Kom is doing very well, she has won World Championship.
LAT: Who are the current lot of boxers according to you that have lot of potential?
AK: Virender Singh, Jitender, Dinesh Kumar, Suren Jain, Nanvi Singh
LAT: You qualified for the Athens Games by winning second place at the 1st AIBA Asian 2004 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Guangzhou, China. What was going in your mind at that time?
AK: Getting a ticket to the Olympics was most important for me. So far I have participated and qualified for three Olympics.
LAT: But in the final you lost to Uzbekistan's Tulashboy Doniyorov. At the Olympics 2004, you lost in the first round to Jerome Thomas. Do you think you could have fought it differently?
AK: Whenever I get into ring, I play to win. I didn’t think I would lose. Planning, timing, luck are essential to win.
LAT: In 2005, you won the gold medal at the 4th Commonwealth Federation Boxing Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. You defeated Bongani Mahalangu of South Africa by a narrow margin of 18-17 in the 54 kg final, what were the preparations you had put into it.
AK: My preparations were good as usual, but my hand had been fractured. I was determined to win and not let the injury and pain affect me. I won by one point. All through the match my Cuban coach B.I. Fernandes kept me motivated.
LAT: Who do you consider your best opponent so far and why?
AK: Akhil Kumar, when I go for shadow-boxing, in front of the mirror.
LAT: Who are the opponents you usually have tough time boxing?
AK: When we lose, our mistakes are pointed out. And the winner is applauded. The opponents either get lucky or unlucky.
LAT: What do you think is your USP as a boxer?
AK: My footwork, my unique style of giving a dose, body movement, will power, injuries and my Open guarded boxing style.
LAT: What are the best matches you have played so far?
AK: Every match I have played is special and unique. If you insist then I recall the day on Aug 15th 2008, when I defeated World champion Sergey Vodopyanov of Russia at the Beijing Olympics. When I won Gold and was declared Best Boxer in Bankok at the Beijing Olympic Boxing Qualifying match in feb. 2008. When I won Gold at the Senior International Boxing Championship in Uzbekistan. When in 4th Brandenburg cup Aug. 1999 held in Germany, I won a Bronze. And when in the 1st AFRO- Asian games held in Nov. 2003, I won Gold in Hyderabad.
LAT: If you were to list top five best moments in your life, what will they be?
AK: The day I met The President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at Raj Bhawan. Second was when Dr. Kalam presented the prestigious Arjuna Award to me in 2005. Next will be the day I got married to the girl I love the most. Fourth will be the fact my best friends have stood by me since my childhood days. And fifth in my list will be the relentless love that I keep receiving from my family, fans and well wishers.
LAT: Do you think instant fame and money is affecting the performance of the upcoming boxers?
AK: No, I do not think so because it is boosting our sport. This is a sport where injuries can damage a sportsman’s life forever. To inspire people to take up this sport, fame and money is good.
LAT: Being always under media scrutiny, how has it affected your boxing career (negative and positive way)?
AK: Media is the fourth pillar of our society. The reason why cricket is so famous is because of media. Media has its negative effects which are less. The positive effects have overshadowed the negative effects. When our juniors look up to us and say I want to be like Akhil Kumar, because his life is celebrated by media, there it helps the sport.
LAT: What led you to take up Jhalak Dikhlaja?
AK: As I did not have any tournament then. I felt it would promote our sport, so I represented as a boxer, all the time I was promoting boxing simultaneously.
LAT: Do you think boxing, a game where the sportsman is physically hurt in the process, can attract more people into such a sport? What are the incentives?
AK: Boxing is the eighth or ninth sport which is prone to injuries. Boxing is the House of pain. Issey khelne ke liye jigar chahiye…(One needs to have a lot of courage to play the game) Jisko nasha aajaye toh chhodta nahin hai (Boxing is an addiction, which is difficult to get rid of). Whoever has chosen boxing as a career is because it is in their blood.
LAT: Do you think boxing deserves to be given much more priority than it is receiving now? ( as compared to cricket)
AK: Yes. But whichever game entertains people, people will give priority to it.
LAT: Why do all the boxers come from Bhiwani, which is known as the factory house of boxing?
AK: Because the training centre is in Bhiwani. It is run by the Sports Authority of India.
LAT: What according to you should Government do to initiate boxing as an attractive career for the youngsters?
AK: Government should build more centres for boxing all across the country to encourage youngsters interested in the sport, like we have in Bhiwani.
LAT: Who are the boxers you admire the most?
AK: Akhil Kumar, Sugar Ray, Muhammad Ali. Roy Jones jr.
LAT: What were you doing before becoming a boxer?
AK: I used to play cricket back in my childhood days. In cultural activities I used to act. It was in Oct 1994 I played my first game.
LAT: You are a Youth Icon, what is your message for the youth?
AK: Eat well, think well. Work hard.
LAT: Thank you Akhil for the interview and all the best for your forthcoming matches.
AK: Thank you very much Leslie. God bless you.