Barely hours before her first bout at the Commonwealth Games, L Sarita Devi’s worst nightmare came true. A chance to compete at a multi-discipline event had so far eluded the boxer, who has long remained in the shadow of her state-mate Mary Kom. The Glasgow Games were to be her moment under the sun but a wrist injury she picked up a week before departure had aggravated on the eve of the tournament.
Backing out wasn’t an option. Especially after having a shot at glory after waiting in the wings for all these years. “I had travelled all the way to Glasgow. How could I not participate? Wahan tak gaye the, khaali haath vaapas thodi aate? (Having travelled so far, how could I return empty handed?),” she asks.
She popped a painkiller half an hour before every bout. “It worked. But it also made me drowsy. But with the circumstances I was in, I have exceeded my expectations,” the silver medallist says.
Sarita speaks in a soft tone, the tiredness is apparent in her voice. She giggles when you talk about her looking jaded between rounds during her lightweight final against Australian Shelly Watts.
“Was I?” she glances quizzically at her husband seated next to her. “Actually, I was. I could feel that during the bout. My mind was telling me to move and do the right things, but my body just wasn’t listening. I could feel my legs getting heavier and my reflexes getting slower.”
The night before Saturday’s final, Sarita says she didn’t sleep much. The injured wrist was acting up again and it was only after Kiran C, the Olympic Gold Quest-appointed physio who works with the badminton team, tended to her late into the night that she was in a position to fight.
With her gold medal bout scheduled for afternoon, Sarita says she had to leave from the village at 6am to reach the venue in time for the pre-match formalities. “I had to leave early because of the weigh in and other such things that have to be completed before every bout. So I could sleep just for four-five hours and was on painkillers,” she adds.
Scoring system issues
The new scoring system has only added to her problems. Earlier, the scores were flashed at the end of every round, which enabled the pugilist to plan and strategize accordingly. Under the new format, though, a boxer is made aware of the points only after the end of the bout. The pro-style 10-point scoring system was introduced last year and the CWG was the first multi-discipline event to be played under the new rule.
“Earlier, we knew exactly what was happening so if we were leading going into the final round, we would stay away from the opponent and run the clock down,” Sarita says.
“But now, it’s difficult to tell which way a bout is going. We are not told the scores. So from the start to end, we have to go all out. We can’t afford to take the defensive route, especially during closely-fought bouts.”
It’s a Catch-22 situation, she says; a factor that has had a direct impact on her game. Fighting with same intensity for the entire duration of the bout has been physically draining but at the same time, slowing down the proceedings isn’t an option. “The opponent is always attacking you so you cannot switch off even for one second. You have to attack from the start to the end. I have to learn to improvise,” she reiterates.
Like the other boxers, Sarita hardly has any time to recuperate. She will report to the national camp at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi this week before travelling to Patiala for the selection trials for the Asian Games on August 11. She hopes her wrist will hold up. For according to her, that will be half the battle won for the Incheon Asiad .
“I have beaten the Asian boxers before so I am confident of winning the gold medal there. I just have to ensure I don’t over-work my wrist.”