Indian boxing’s unparalleled medal haul at this year’s Commonwealth Games had a lot to do with the Indian Army, more specifically Subedar Major Narender Rana.
A former Asian Championships bronze-medallist and a four-time national champion, the 46-year-old Rana is among the backroom brains of Indian boxing — the rarely talked about crucial cogs who only the boxers know and acknowledge.
“Our Commanding Officer had asked me before the Games ‘how many medals do you think the Services boxers will win?’. I had told him the results will be 100 percent, he said ‘we will nominate you for Dronacharya (award) if that happens’,” Rana recalled in an interview with PTI.
His prediction sure did come true. Of the eight medals the Indian male boxers claimed in the CWG, five came from pugilists of the Army.
Gaurav Solanki (52kg) won the gold medal, Amit Panghal (49kg) and Manish Kaushik (60kg) fetched silver, while Mohammed Hussamuddin (56kg) and Satish Kumar (+91kg) settled for bronze medals.
All of them have trained under Rana at the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune, the place which discovered stars of Indian boxing such as M Suranjoy Singh, Vikas Krishan, Shiva Thapa and L Devendro Singh, among others.
“Boxing is my life. I am not saying I am better than any other coach but I am very passionate. There is nothing else that I would do in life but I don’t want to brag about my results either,” he said.
He was reticent but the boxers, who have trained with Rana, were vocal in their appreciation for the man and the institution he represents.
“He has his unique style, strict and rough inside the ring but the moment it’s over, he becomes a friend one can share thoughts with,” said Amit, who has claimed gold and a silver medal in three international events in the last four months.
“He prefers to focus on the nitty-gritties of technique. Unlike several other coaches, who ask you to run all the time, he is more of a sparring man. He puts a higher premium on ring time,” added Kavinder Bisht, India’s only unbeaten boxer in the semi-professional World Series of Boxing.
“I wouldn’t call him very strict because he is very lenient with disciplined guys. I would say he is totally focussed, never gets distracted when is in training,” felt the fast-rising Manish.
Rana, on his part, described himself as unwavering.
“I am strict no doubt because it’s a combat sport, you have to be tough. But my boys, I stand up for them, I never leave them alone,” he said with a hint of pride in his tone.
An example of this steadfastness was last year’s National Championship, where Rana protested and held up proceedings when Solanki lost “unfairly”, according to him.
“For one and a half hour, the bouts did not happen because I did not budge from my protest, it was about principles. As a result, I was expelled from the national camp but I have no regrets, I will always stand by my boys,” he asserted.
He is currently in charge of ASI’s ‘Mission Olympics’ for boxing.
“I joined the army as a fauji, was not even interested in boxing when I first came here. But then, they turned me into one and now I am heading their boxing program, guess that’s what you call life,” he said.
As for the promised Dronacharya nomination, the commanding officer lived up to his word, and Rana’s name has been recommended by the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) this year.