Newly-crowned world champion Nikhat Zareen is hungry to win more medals for the country and expects a record haul of four golds from the Indian boxing contingent at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games starting July 28.
Indian pugilists’ best-ever CWG show has been at the 2018 edition at Gold Coast where six-time world champion Mary Kom became the first woman boxer from the country to emerge champion, as they returned with a record haul of three gold, three silver and three bronze medals. At Birmingham, the new boxing sensation from Telangana would make its much-anticipated CWG debut and she hoped for “at least eight medals” from the 12-member Indian boxing team.
“I expect at least eight medals, of which I will take four gold from the boxers. Let’s see what happens,” the 26-year-old, who won the 52kg flyweight gold at the World Championships in Turkey in May, said in a virtual media interaction arranged by the Sports Authority of India. “We’re all experienced boxers. We have World Championship medallists and Olympians. I hope every one gets gold! I still have the same hunger to win a medal for the country, I’m still hungry.
“It’s difficult to predict a medal before the draw is out, as sometimes you’re handed a tough draw and get eliminated in the first round.” At Birmingham, India will have a boxing contingent of eight men’s and four women’s participants. Apart from Zareen, the Indian women’s boxing team will have the Olympic bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain (70kg), 2021 Asian youth bronze medallist Jasmine (60kg) and Nitu, a two-time former youth world champion.
Olympians Amit Panghal (51kg) and Shiva Thapa (63.5kg) will lead the men’s boxing team comprising six others — Mohammad Hussamuddin (57kg), Rohit Tokas (67kg), Sumit Kundu (75kg), Ashish Chaudhary (80kg), Sanjeet (92kg), and Sagar (92+kg). Zareen would make her CWG debut in a new weight division after being forced to switch to 50kg following the announcement of new weight categories for the Paris Olympics.
“I didn’t have any other option. It was difficult but not that tough to come to 50kg. I just had to lose 2kg. I prefer losing weight and playing in that category rather than competing in higher weight divisions,” she said. Justifying her decision to not fight in bantamweight, she said: “My body has adapted to play after losing weight. If I play in a higher (54kg) division, it would need more muscle mass, strength and power.
“Also there would be taller rivals — and some who have come from 60kg. It would be tough for me to move to bantam from flyweight, so my advantage would be to play in the 50kg category.” Zareen feels her main rivals at the CWG would be from hosts England and neighbouring Ireland, one of whom — Carly Mc Naul — had lost in the quarters in her weight category at the Istanbul Worlds. “She lost to Caroline De Almeida (of Brazil) whom I defeated in the semi-final,” Zareen, who became only the fifth Indian boxer to be crowned world champion earlier in May, said.
“I have never seen her (Carly’s) game. But I’m taller than her and I will try to use my height advantage and play from a long distance. I’m working on how to box with different styles of boxers.” Zareen will leave for a two-week long Irish camp in the build-up to Commonwealth Games and hoped she would get to assess more Irish boxers during the stint. “It will be a good exposure trip before one big event. Even though we had a similar exposure before the World Championships, it helped us to boost our confidence.” The Hyderabad pugilist overcame a career-threatening shoulder dislocation in 2017 only to return stronger.
Earlier this year, she became the first Indian woman boxer to claim two gold medals at the coveted Strandja Memorial before becoming the world champion.
“I was going through ups and downs and took help of a psychologist. Since then I’m working on mental strength and visualising — of winning medal, hearing the National anthem in the background — which has helped.”