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Boxer Pooja Rani expecting to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics

Published at :July 27, 2021 at 10:34 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : Bizbehindsports)

Gaurav Singh

The Asian champion will be making her maiden appearance at the quadrennial event.

While Amit Panghal enters the Tokyo Olympics with the No. 1 ranking, it is Pooja Rani who has enjoyed the best form among Indian boxers of late. The 75kg middleweight pugilist from the fabled Bhiwani district of Haryana has won consecutive gold medals at the Asian Championships and is brimming with confidence. She is one of the record 121 athletes who are representing India at the Tokyo Olympics.

On July 28, Pooja Rani defeated Algeria's Ichrak Chaib 5-0 in the round of 16 to register her first victory at the Tokyo Olympics. She is now just one win away from confirming an Olympic medal. The Indian boxer will face China's Li Qian in the quarter-finals on 31st July, at 3:36 PM IST.

Her current form makes her a favourite to win the bout.

But, the journey to the top was never easy. She started late and then the disappointment of not qualifying for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016 was a real dampener to her boxing career. Time was running out, but the 30-year-old decided to train even harder. Her hard work finally paid off when she became the first Indian athlete to qualify for Tokyo.

Preparations for Tokyo Olympics

With one milestone achieved, Pooja Rani started working even harder. The veteran has been training with several foreign pugilists and has worked on her strength and speed. Therefore, she feels confident of a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics.

"My preparations have been really good and consistent in the past one year and I have focused on a lot of aspects, especially on my speed and strength. We trained with a lot of good boxers from other countries in Italy and had some really intense training and sparring sessions. I am feeling very confident and I expect to win a medal," said Pooja Rani in an exclusive chat with Khel Now.

COVID-19 pandemic playing spoilsport

However, the COVID-19 pandemic played a major spoilsport during her preparations for the Olympics. Although Pooja Rani does not feel that the pandemic has hindered her progress, she admits that lack of proper training and sparring did affect her for some time. However, she is back to peak physical fitness ahead of the big event.

When asked whether the pandemic has hindered her progress as a boxer, Pooja Rani replied, "Not at all! We were training from home for a few months when the lockdown began in 2020 and the focus was on maintaining fitness since sparring was not possible. I agree it wasn't the same as training in the camp, but with few weeks of moderated training sessions at the camp, we were able to get back to our best. When you have the motivation of playing at the Olympics, you automatically push yourself and give your best in training."

Proving herself against the best in the world

In the last few years, Pooja Rani has shown resilience in holding her own against world-class boxers. She clinched Gold at the 2019 Asian Championships, as she defeated the then world champion Wang Lina of China. The veteran feels that was the turning point in her career and from thereon she always backs herself even against higher ranked oppositions.

Quizzed whether she has any special mantra to her recent success, she added, "Nothing specific. I believe in consistency and confidence. Ever since I won the 2019 Asian Championships gold medal after defeating a world champion, my self belief and confidence increased manifolds and I believe in myself a lot more. Since then, I have been able to train consistently without any hassle and that also helps."

Importance of analyzing her opponents

Apart from sweating it out in the gym and working on her speed and strength, Pooja Rani spends a lot of time watching her opponents closely. She watches footage from their bouts and tries to identify areas of weakness that she can capitalize on. She admitted that she does not do anything differently while facing a high ranked pugilist, other than watching their bouts and studying them. Rani believes in keeping things simple.

"The basics remain the same and I trust in keeping things simple rather than overdoing things. But, for any opponent irrespective of her ranking, I watch her bouts with my coaches, analyze it and make a strategy accordingly," she revealed.

Adaptability and blind trust in her coach's instincts

In boxing, adaptability is a very key feature, especially when you are in the ring all alone against strong opposition. Sometimes your counterpart may come up with an element of surprise, something which you weren't expecting. Therefore Pooja Rani suggests that one cannot go into a ring entirely with one plan. She remains alert on her opponents' movements and also tries to listen to her coach's instructions during the break after every round.

Her coach Raffaele Bergamasco deserves a lot of credit for her overall growth as a boxer. It was after the Italian's suggestion that Pooja Rani decided to drop to a lower weight category of 75kg. This increased her chances for Olympics qualification and now she is reaping the rewards. From keeping Bergamasco's faith while dropping to 75kg to blindly trusting his instincts during her bouts, Rani has come a long way.

"Sometimes, we stick to the plan but at times, we need to be flexible and change the gameplan according to the tactics of the opponent. I listen to what my coaches tell and advise me from the corner, especially after every round. I trust their instincts blindly and it has worked out well for me till now," the veteran pugilist signed off.

Pooja Rani was deeply inspired by the stories of Olympic medalists Vijender Singh and MC Mary Kom. She believed that one day she will write her own folklore in Indian boxing. Her journey till now has been full of hardships and patience. But, the 30-year-old medal hopeful from Bhiwani would like to believe that her time to shine is finally here in Tokyo.

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