They all hail from remote corners of the country. On Sunday, though, they put India on the world map. Till date, India had managed just two gold medals at the Youth World Championships. However, on a memorable afternoon here they did not just surpass that record but set new ones, winning five gold medals at the Nabin Chandra Badroloi Indoor Stadium.
Nitu (48kg), Jyoti Gulia (51kg), Sakshi Choudhary (54kg), Shashi Chopra (57kg) and Ankushita Boro (64kg) propelled India to its best-ever performance at the event by winning their finals at the Nabin Chandra Bardoloi Indoor Stadium here. The country had won just one bronze medal at the previous edition of the event and had not won a gold since 2011 when Sarjubala Devi secured top-of-the-podium finish.
Their performance also gives India some hope for the future. For more than a decade, Indian women’s boxing has been synonymous with Mary Kom. Who next, after her, is a question that has haunted many. For now, at least, that question has an answer. And like Mary, these girls — daughters of farmers, teachers and government workers — too come from far-flung villages.
Jyoti, who defeated Ekaterina Molchanova of Russia in her final, began boxing without telling her parents. “When she told us about boxing, we were a bit angry. She was a good dancer so we would tell her to do that and discouraged boxing,” says her father Maman Singh, a farmer.
He was selling this season’s paddy crop when he heard the news of her daughter winning the gold medal. “I wanted her to quit the sport. Instead, she used to tell me that with her exploits in boxing, she will give me a break from farming. I am 60, what more can a father ask from his daughter,” Maman says.
Two other girls, Sakshi and Neetu, train at the Bhiwani Boxing Academy, made famous by 2008 Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh. “Two of my father’s sisters are married in Vijender’s village Kaluvas and some of my cousins are related to Viju bhai. So when I started boxing at the Bhiwani Boxing Academy, I would think that I will also win a medal like him at the world level,” Sakshi says.
Neetu’s father Jai Bhagwan works as bill messenger in Haryana Vidhan Sabha. He says his chest will swell with pride when he walks into his workplace on Monday morning.
“I took leave from my office from in 2015 and 2016 and joined again early this year. My work involves managing the various bills of Haryana legislators and when I join work later this week, getting my daughter’s name mentioned by the Haryana government and CM will be the biggest thing for me,” Jai Bhagwan says.
Much of India’s success at this event is attributed to Rafaelle Bergamasco, the recently-appointed foreign coach with the team. In a short span, the Italian has had tremendous impact on the boxers with his unique training methods. But there were several challenges along the way.
“Indian girls have very strong punches. And even though they come from villages, their technique is good. But they were mentally not prepared. They would see their own videos. I told them not to see (them) and (instead) spend time training together,” Bergamasco says.
“Earlier they would spend two hours punching and shadow boxing. The first day I arrived, I told chief coach Bhaskar that I need music and he was surprised initially. But this made these girls active mentally and now they cannot train without music.” On Sunday, as they all celebrated their record win, they were approached by Rakesh Kumar and Ranjeeta Devi, parents of Ankushita Boro, who was adjudged the best boxer Ekaterina Dynnik in light welter 64 kg final. Kumar, a resident of Megaai Gairrrani village about 150 kms from Guwahati, who works as a probation teacher, could not afford his daughter’s boxing initially. She was sent to Sports Authority of India’s Golaghat centre, where she took her first steps to being a champion.
“Whenever my daughter would come home, she would sleep in mud and bamboo rooms,” Ranjeeta says. “Now with the prize money, we will construct two rooms in our home. Aaj ki jeet ke bad who meri beti nahi, pure desh ki beti hai.”
The fabulous five
The 17-year-old, who beat Kazakhstan’s Zhazira Urakbayeva 5-0 on Sunday, honed her skills at the famed Bhiwani Boxing Club. Not part of the national camp a couple of years back, the youngster would run and shadow box in village fields in the morning followed by training at the boxing club in evening.
Jyoti Gulia, 51kg
Gulia, 17, in her initial years of boxing had to sneak off for practice as father barred her from taking up the sport. She trained with Sudhir Hooda, coach-cum-sarpanch of the Rurki village near Rohtak. In the finals Gulia beat Ekaterina Molchanova of Russia 5-0.
Sakshi Choudhary, 54kg
Sakshi Choudhary too is from the Bhiwani Boxing Club. Sakshi, who beat England’s Ivy-Jane Smith 3-2 on Sunday, was drafted into the junior world cup camp in 2015.
Sashi Chopra, 57kg
The Haryana girl took up boxing inspired by Mary Kom’s London bronze. Chopra put up a fine show in Guwahahti to beat Vietnamese Hong Do 4-1 for gold.
Ankushita Boro, 64kg
Boro, who hails from Megaai Gairrran village in Assam, took up boxing in 2012. She won the best boxer award at the district level in 2013, a state gold in 2015, and also a bronze medal in 2017 youth nationals . The local girl beat Ekaterina Dynnik of 4-1 amid loud cheers on Sunday.