This Olympian is Wearing New Gloves of Glory
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His bronze win at the Olympics in 2008, turned him into the poster boy. Neighbourhood boys picked up the gloves and boxing clubs that were in a shamble suddenly reopened. Vijender Singh, instantaneously became the big hero from a small town.
Like every small town sportsman, success did not come easy. He lost every international tournament that he initially played in. “My father told me then (kai baar jeet milti hain, Kai baar seekh milti hain) sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. It was in Germany in 2001 that I rose from a B-team player to an A-team one and I never looked back,” he said.
The medals continued to pour in even after the Olympics but out of the blue, a drug controversy in 2012 proved to be a major setback. While Singh fought for his stance, he got a clean chit in 2013. During this time, he slowly moved from the boxing ring to the silver screen. From movies to reality TV, his presence was felt everywhere. Determined to not give up, Singh announced a big comeback in 2015, albeit bidding goodbye to amateur wrestling. This time around he decided to play in the ambit of professional boxing – something that no Indian had tried before. His move was questioned by all but Singh punched the criticism out of his way and today, his tally stands at 9 wins in 9 tournaments that he has played so far.
Awards and Accolades
For Singh, boxing was his passion that he, as a 13-year-old son of a Haryana Roadways driver, had come across while at the stadium to check out gymnastics. “Outside the stadium a group of 15 boys were boxing and I thought, this is so easy, all you have to do is throw punches in the air. As I started playing, my coach Jagdish Singh noticed me,” Singh said. Today, he has India's highest sporting honour Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and even a Padma Shri to his name.But even with all the accolades he won over the years, Singh’s move into professional boxing was doubted by many. “Everyone had forgotten that I am an Olympic medalist. I had to start all over again,” he added.
Over night, everything changed. The technicalities of the game changed, the glove size was smaller meaning the punches got harder and most of all, Singh found himself alone in Manchester, away from his family, gearing up every morning to face the ring. “My surrounding changed completely. I had even asked my friends in boxing to come along with me, had offered to pay for them as well, but they weren’t willing to take the risk,” he said.
Popularizing Amateur Boxing
For Singh, when he started, one of his dreams was to bring the professional boxing ring to India, which he did in 2016, with games in New Delhi. “Now, there are a lot more amateur boxers who are looking at turning pro,” said Singh. Speaking about the drug controversy in 2012, he said, “When you are a famous person, the controversies get to you easier. But I’m bigger than that. You can pull me down, but I will only come back stronger.”
(This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)