Back in 2012, when he made his Olympic debut in London, Vikas Krishan was a clean cut 20-year-old. It had been just two years since he entered the senior ranks. His baby face was topped by a schoolboyish mop. Four years have made a mark on Krishan’s features. His hair has a rakish shaved-on-the-sides long-on-the-top do. His face is cut and patched. Bruises have gathered colour below his left cheekbone and along the bridge of the nose. A loop of surgeon’s thread sticks out from under his right eyebrow even as it did its job of holding together split skin long enough to heal. Despite all the damage, he wears a smile.
Just last week, Krishan has won the right to participate in his second Olympics after reaching the semifinal of the 2016 AIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. It was the middleweight’s penultimate chance to qualify for Rio. He had already missed the opportunity to qualify at the 2015 World Championships and then the Asia-Oceania qualifiers in March. Now with 39 days to go before the start of the boxing competition in Rio, Krishan will be looking to make up for what he missed out in London.
Krishan had been one of Indian boxing’s big hopes at the 2012 Games. He had qualified in the welterweight division (69kg) after winning bronze at the 2011 World Championships — becoming only the second Indian then to do so. He had won an Asian Games gold medal before that. In London, though, he was upset in the first round in controversial circumstances. American Errol Spence had lost 11-13 at the end of the contest but was declared champion after it was determined he should have been awarded four points because of unpunished fouls committed by Krishan.
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The loss left him devastated. “I’m a person who when he goes to a tournament expects to bring back a medal. I wasn’t looking to go to London and come back with a T-shirt from the gift store or a bag from Duty Free,” he says. Having boxed for 11 years at that point, Krishan took a break from the sport for over a year. He completed his police training and got married. He is now the father of two young boys with a third child due any time over the next week. “I was upset about what happened in London and I think I needed to take time off from the sport. It was a relief that you could get up late in the morning and not worry about going to train,” he says.
Eventually though Krishan pulled on his gloves once again. “It was good to get a taste of freedom. But of course once you have been in that cage for so long, even if you get freedom, you begin missing that cage. I knew that I would return to boxing.”
Federation in disarray
His second return to the ring has not been nearly as successful as the first. The rules of the game had changed. Instead of the old point scoring system that favoured Krishan’s jab, coverup and move technique, professional scoring was introduced. This aided fighters who stayed busy throughout the round. The Indian boxing federation was in disarray which meant boxers got limited exposure. The fact that no nationals took place resulted in Krishan fighting the same boxers in the national camp again and again with little chance of improvement. At the 2014 Asian Games he won a bronze, losing a one-sided decision to Zhanibek Alimkhanuly of Kazakhstan. “It was a bout that really made me question where I stood. He hit me so hard, I lost any speed advantage I had,” he says. A silver at the Asian Championships was followed by a fallow Olympic qualification period. As he missed out on a quota at World Championships and then the Asia-Oceania qualifiers, Krishan admits he was worried. “I was a boxer who was winning medals at the world and Asian level and now I was unable to even qualify after two attempts. So it makes you begin to doubt yourself,” he says.
Krishan was questioned over his unusual training methods as well. After the Asiad loss, Krishan spent a month in the USA where he trained alongwith professionals. He believes training with the heavy punching prizefighters honed his game. “Before then, I didn’t have a game once I got hit by a heavy puncher. By training with professionals, I learned how to take a hit and keep boxing,” he says.
And the fact he has had to struggle as long as he had to qualify for Rio will only benefit him, he feels. “Last time around, I think I was too distracted. I qualified nearly eight months before the Olympics. When I would train, it was always a little too relaxed. I would think ‘it’s ok. I still have 8 months to train.’ Then it became six months, then three and finally my first bout was just a day away. This time around I have been in competition mode since December last year,” he says.
Next stop, Venezuela
Krishan will continue to be in the same zone. He will travel to the 2016 APB & WSB Olympic Qualifier in Vargas, Venezuela on June 30. The event is the final qualifier for the Olympics meant for professional fighters along with APB and WSB fighters. Krishan had decided to participate in the tournament at a time when he wasn’t sure of qualifying. Now that he has, he will travel to Venezuela in order to get quality sparring. “It is not possible to get good sparring in India. In Venezuela, I will pay opponents to spar with me,” he says.
If Krishan is going the extra mile, it’s because he won’t be doing it again. “This will be my last Olympics,” he says. “I don’t think I will ever have the same combination of youth and experience. This is the perfect time for me to perform. If I don’t win a medal now, I won’t get a chance again,” he adds.