At the national selection trials in August for the women’s world championships, Manju Rani’s childhood coach Sahab Singh and uncle Sunil Kumar looked tensed as they watched her bouts. They were hoping Manju didn’t get a raw deal as was the case earlier in her career and had to shift from Haryana and represent Punjab. Having made the switch in 2017, Rani won the national championships in January, and there has been no looking back.
“Whenever there is a trial or fight, we just pray she doesn’t get a biased decision because she has suffered a lot in Haryana and we had to enter her for competitions from Punjab. Once she made it to the national camp, she has been taken good care of and the trials have been open and fair,” said Sahab Singh.
Rani’s stature has rapidly risen in the last 10 months since she started representing India at the international level. On Saturday, she brought out her fearless streak to defeat Thailand’s Chuthamat Raksat 4-1 in 48kg and make it to the world championships final in Ulan-Ude, Russia. Rani will face second-seeded Russian Ekaterina Paltceva in the gold medal match.
Her career upswing this year has been marked with silver at the Strandja International and bronze in the Thailand Open and India Open.
“I just want to win gold and hear my national anthem,” said Rani.
She was the only Indian among four quarter-finalists to reach the final with MC Mary Kom (51kg), Jamuna Boro (54kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) losing their semi-final matches. Six-time champion Mary Kom lost a tough bout to second-seed Busenaz Cakiroglu of Turkey, while Borgohain (69kg) was beaten 2-3 after giving her all against China’s Yang Liu.
In a fight where both tall boxers were on attacking mode, Borgohain never stepped back and kept up the tempo. The Assam girl has secured her second medal from the worlds, after winning bronze at home on debut last year.
India coach Rafaelle Bergamasco believes Lovlina was a clear winner and the team’s offer of protest was turned down by the technical observer.
Row over protest
The Indian team was upset with the results. Bergamasco was angry as the rules of protest were changed on the penultimate day of the competition. The AIBA technical bench told the teams in the morning that a protest will be allowed only if the result is a close 3-2. It meant Mary Kom, who wanted to lodge a protest, could not as she had lost 1-4.
“It’s a very bad situation. We are unhappy with what happened. You can’t change the rules in between (during) the competition. Today, during the technical team briefing (they) told us in the morning that a protest can be done only if the score is 3-2,” he said.
“Mary Kom played very well. The opponent was strong but we thought Mary was clear winner in the first round, and the second and third rounds were close. In case of Lovlina, we wanted to protest but it was just not accepted. I have to say that if these things continue to happen in scoring, we might not see boxing in the 2024 Olympics,” Bergamasco said.
Scoring in boxing has been under scrutiny for a long time and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has repeatedly asked AIBA to make it more transparent. With AIBA suspended by IOC, the Olympic qualifiers next year will be held by an IOC-appointed panel.
However, four medals in the world championships is job well done. India bagged four medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze) last year with the new crop turning up in front of the home crowd. That streak has continued with new faces Rani and Boro showing the depth the country has in women’s boxing.
“India have a good future. The girls are young and talented and learning fast, and they have the belief,” said Bergamasco.
Debutants Boro and Rani have been the surprise packages. Both have battled adversities in life at a young age, which has toughened them. Boro may have lost 0-5 to top seed and former Asian Games bronze-medallist Huang Hsiao-Wen of Chinese Taipei but she has proved that she is cut out for bigger stuff.
“Jamuna is very strong and she has been a real surprise. Manju played very well today. She always listens to the corner and executes. She is fast and is good with her counterattacks. She is someone who can be groomed in the 51kg in future,” the coach added.
Thailand’s Chuthamat Raksat had beaten Rani at the Thailand Open this year but this time she was prepared. Rani used her height to good advantage, using her reach to deliver blows. The second round was close but towards the end of the third, Rani landed a flurry of punches to come out a clear winner.
Oct 12, 2019 18:14 IST