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Nikhat Zareen on managing expectations for Paris Olympics, sparring with rival and why being nervous is key

Published at :June 16, 2024 at 7:59 PM
Modified at :June 19, 2024 at 4:40 PM
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(Courtesy : Getty Images)

Anmol Kakkar


Two-time world champion, Nikhat Zareen, will be making her Olympic debut at Paris 2024.

One of India’s biggest medal bets at the Paris Olympics, Nikhat Zareen, a two-time World Champion, has been training hard to fulfill her biggest goal. Having already achieved a quota place in women’s 50kg category with her bronze medal win at the Asian Games, Zareen is a top-medal contender at Paris.

Apart from the two World Championships gold, Zareen is also a gold medallist at Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal winner at the Asian Games. In a virtual press conference facilitated by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in collaboration with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Boxing Federation, Zareen, 28, spoke about her journey to the Paris Olympics and her game plan about the opponent.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Q: A billion people are hoping that you will win a medal in Paris. What do you want to say about that?

Nikhat Zareen: Firstly, I am honoured to represent India at the Olympics. I am excited because it’s my first Olympics and at the same time as the days go by and we are moving forward to Paris, I feel nervous because people have a lot of expectations from me. But I am working hard, and I will go with one mindset that this time I have to win a medal for India.

ALSO READ: Favourite food, strategies, sacrifices: Nikhat Zareen offers a glimpse into her quest for Olympic medal

Q: Can you tell us about your preparation for Paris?

Nikhat Zareen: Since I qualified for the Paris Olympics, I participated in the Strandja Memorial tournament and won a silver medal there. After that, we went to Montenegro where we had two weeks of training camp and sparring sessions with boxers from different countries. We also went to Turkey where I sparred with the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist and former world champion Buse Naz Çakıroğlu, who is the main rival in my weight category.

I really had a good experience sparring with her. It gives me a lot of confidence to do well. Recently, I won the gold medal at the Elorda Cup and I am happy with the way I performed. Hopefully, I will continue to work hard and do well at the Olympics.

Q: Why would an athlete of your stature with multiple World Championships gold medals and experience be nervous heading into the Olympic Games?

Nikhat Zareen: I am an experienced boxer but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be nervous. For every competition I get nervous. If I don’t get nervous, my body doesn’t perform the way I want to. I feel when I am nervous my body performs well, and I do well in the ring.

This is my first Olympics as well and I don’t have any experience playing on the Olympic platform. Once I enter the ring, I don’t think about outside I just want to be focused and want to win the match.

ALSO READ: Nikhat Zareen finishes with silver at 75th Strandja Memorial tournament

Q: What changes have you made to your game and personality since the Asian Games bronze?

Nikhat Zareen: At the Asian Games, I was aggressive in my bout when I faced the Vietnamese, Korean, and Jordan girls, but when I was facing the Thai opponent, I started putting a lot of effort in the second and the third round. Since I was not aggressive in the first round, I lost the bout via a split decision.

I took that as a lesson, and I worked on my mistakes. Since then, I enter the ring as a different boxer. I really had a good experience at the Strandja Memorial tournament where I defeated two Olympians — one was a Mongolian boxer and another a French boxer. They both were really tough, but I still won by Unanimous decision (5-0).

Even though I won silver, I was happy. It wasn’t entirely about the results, but it was more about the way I performed in the ring. Overall, I am happy with my performance post the Asian Games.

Q: Have you identified your main rival/s at the Olympics? If yes, do you have specific plans for each one of them?

Nikhat Zareen: The Olympics will be tougher than the world championships as all the experienced boxers will be competing. I can’t take anyone lightly as all of them have worked hard to represent their country. I know who the tough opponents in my weight category are, so I will be keeping an eye on them.

At the same time, I don’t want to ignore the other boxers as well. There is no seeding and ranking at the Olympics, so it’s also about luck because I don’t know who I will be facing in the first round or the second round.

ALSO READ: Asian Games 2023: Nikhat Zareen settles for bronze after shocking upset in semifinal

Q) China’s Wu Yu is one of the strongest medal contenders at Paris and you haven’t met her yet. Have you watched her bouts and is there any plans for her?

Nikhat Zareen: I have seen her game; she is a very technical boxer who is always on her feet. I haven’t faced her yet so it will be new for me if I face her in the Olympics. I have also never sparred with her so I will have to go with my Instincts.

If I face her in the Olympics, I will see observe for the first 30 seconds and then according to the situation, I will change my game plan.

Q) Any particular mental training you have undertaken to ensure you don’t get nervous?

Nikhat Zareen: When I get nervous, I talk to my family and close friends. Usually before going to my bout, I listen to music, pray and play games to avoid getting distracted.

Q) Can you tell us more about the seedings and rankings? During the World Championship also there were no seeding and rankings, and you got a very difficult draw

Nikhat Zareen: In the recently held world championships in Delhi, I didn’t get any seeding because I was the world champion in the 52kg category, so I was unseeded. The seeding doesn’t matter much because there are so many boxers who don’t get medals despite having seeding.

I have also noticed one thing whenever I get a tough draw I always perform well. You can’t get an easy draw at the Olympics because all the boxers are really good there. I will give my 100 percent in the Olympics and will think one bout at a time.

Q) How do you unwind yourself after your bout?

Nikhat Zareen: During training I get less time to go outside, so I Play Uno cards with my friends, listen to music, watch Netflix and Web series.

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