Just outside room number 3 at the Dhyan Chand Hostel, NIS, Patiala, a couple of junior boxers are in audience as Asian Games-bound pugilist Vikas Krishan and former boxers Jitendra Kumar and Chote Lal Yadav exchange notes. To include the youngsters in the conversation, the seniors shadow box to explain the new rules. Curious, one of the young pugilists asks Krishan, “What about your chances at Rio Olympics?”
Unwittingly, the youngster touched Krishan’s raw nerve. The 22-year-old abruptly ends the conversation. “August 3, 2012, that’s when my Olympic dream got shattered. And that’s why we do not talk about Olympics anymore in this room,” Yadav tells the rookie nonchalantly.
Evidently, Yadav still hasn’t recovered from the heartbreak he suffered two years ago at London’s ExCel Arena. He exhibited sublime skills in front of a packed house to emerge winner against USA’s Errol Spence in the pre-quarterfinals of the London Games. For everyone at the venue, including the referees, Krishan was the undisputed winner.
Everyone except the jury, who overturned the 13-11 decision that was awarded in Krishan’s favour, insisting that he had committed nine holding fouls in the last round. “It was devastating. The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision on my appeal was due on August 6 but it was hard for me to stay in London. Some of my teammates, who too had lost, told me to hang around. But everyday, I was seeing medals being won around me and I couldn’t stand it. I booked my tickets for India on August 7 and went to my hometown Bhiwani. My father was disappointed and I could sense that,” says Krishan.
For the next six months, Krishan rarely stepped out of his house. Even when his long-time coach, Jagdish Singh of Bhiwani Boxing Club, charmingly called BBC, would visit him, Krishan avoided talking about boxing.
His only pastime was to play volleyball with his friends outside BBC. During one of those sessions, he saw a fellow boxer donning an inspector’s uniform. The sight caught his fancy and Krishan thought of undergoing police training himself. His gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games had already earned him the post of a Deputy Superintendent of Police in Haryana Police.
Soon, the Haryana boxer packed his bags and reported at the Haryana Police Training Centre at Madhuban. “I routinely missed the lectures initially. For 10 years as a boxer, I used to train in the morning so for a few days in the beginning, I would take part in the physical training and would sleep later,” he says. “Gradually, I started to read about crime and law. For the entire year, my life revolved around case solving. I didn’t think about boxing,” says an emotional Krishan.
The only boxer who remained in touch with Krishan during this time was London Olympics quarterfinalist Manoj Kumar, who too had faced a controversial decision against Great Britain’s Thomas Stalker. And it was a casual conversation between the two that lured Krishan back to the ring earlier this year.
Return to the ring
Since no one at home spoke about boxing, the 22-year-old turned to his coach Jagdeep Hooda. The coach’s advise, though a shade melodramatic, was apt: “Piche mud kar dekhne wale itihaas nahi banate.” (Those who turn back, don’t make history).
The next thing he knew, Krishan was at the national camp in Patiala along with 43 other boxers. Upon his return, Krishan was in for a tiny little surprise. After spending 16 months away from the sport, Krishan had bulked up considerably and after consulting his coaches, it was decided that he would move up from 69kg category to 75kg — a category famous for Beijing Games bronze medallist Vijender Singh.
The much-awaited clash with Vijender was expected to take place during the Commonwealth Games trials in May but a cut on his left eye meant that the two World Championship bronze medallists could not meet in the final. “It was a bout which created interest among all the athletes in NIS. Most of the wrestlers and other trainees in NIS had gathered ahead of the final and wanted to see us fight. Unfortunately, I was ruled out due to the injury,” says Krishan. Whenever the talks veers towards Vijender, Krishan quickly talks about matching him step by step, with the exception of Olympics. A former world youth champion, Krishan ended India’s 12-year-old wait in the Asian Games when he won the gold medal in the 60 Kg category before Vijender won the title in 75 Kg. He then matched Vijender’s bronze medal winning feat in 2009 World Championships at the 2011 edition of the event.
And if Krishan is to be believed, the middle-weight category will see a new contender. “I admire Vijender bhai. He is a very good boxer and I have learnt many things from him. But now, age factor is with me,” Krishan says. “I was looking forward to the Asian Games trials but he had to opt out due to injury. Par ek din toh aamne samne ana hi padhega. Kab tak yeh luka chippi chalegi. When we sparred together, Viju bhai would tell me to land clear punches. Whenever we meet next in the ring, I will try to follow his advice,” says Krishan, cheekily.
When Krishan won the title in Guangzhou Asian Games as an 18-year-old, many wondered about the lanky lad’s defensive frailties. Contrary to that belief, it was Krishan’s sturdy defence that earned him the 5-4 win against China’s Qing Hu in the final as well as the semifinal against title-contender Hurshid Tojibaev of Uzbekistan.
But this time, Krishan will be testing waters in a new category, which will see him challenge the likes of world champion Zhanibek Alimkhanuly of Kazakhstan and Asian Championships silver medallist Navruz Jafoev of Tajikistan.
Krishan will also be playing under the new rules and without headgear for the first time. “In the last Asiad, my first, nobody knew me. This time too, not many know about me in the 75kg category and that will be my strength,” Krishan says. “I know that the middle-weight category is new to me but my weight is nowadays normally around 71-72kg which will mean that I will be swifter than other boxers,” says the boxer.
Krishan says the London heartbreak has made him wiser. Now married and father of a one-year-old son, named Veer, Krishan says he wants to win a medal at Incheon for his newborn.
“I got married two years ago to a longtime friend and a fellow boxer. We were blessed with a boy last year. Every weekend, I travel to Bhiwani. Once there, I am completely off from boxing that’s also because still my father does not like it. But if I win a medal in Asian Games, it will be for Veer,” says Krishan.
(All photos by Kamleshwar Singh)