Thursday, March 11, 2010

India favourites in Commonwealth Championships

With a line-up boasting of Olympic hero Vijender Singh, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Akhil Kumar and Asian champion Suranjoy Singh, India are firm favourites for a second title triumph at the Commonwealth Boxing Championships starting on Friday.

Hit by pullouts by Australia, Canada, Ghana and Pakistan, the event has lost some sheen but with the likes of defending champions England and Scotland along with 15 others in attendance, the level of competition is likely to be good.

Set to be held at the renovated Talkatora Stadium, the tournament is also a test event for the Commonwealth Games scheduled in October this year.

India had won the Commonwealth team championship in 2002 in Glasgow with four golds and three silver medals but settled for the runners-up trophy in 2005 with one gold, two silver and three bronze medals.

"It is not going to be a cakewalk despite the pullouts because teams like England and Scotland have a very good mix of youth and experience but our boys are no less and hopefully they will come good," said national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.

World number one Vijender (75kg), who has shot to national fame with historic bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics and World Championships in Milan, is a favourite for the top honours in his category.

"Anybody can be good on a given day but I am confident about my abilities and no matter how tough the competition, I am sure of doing well," 24-year-old Vijender, who was a welter weight (69kg) silver-medallist in Glasgow edition, said.

Akhil, who would compete in the revised bantam weight division of 56kg after feather weight 57kg was abolished, is aiming to set aside a disappointing 2009 in which a nagging wrist injury kept him out of action for most part of the year.

His is likely to be the toughest draw which features the likes of Olympic bronze medallist Bruno Julie of Mauritius. Akhil and Bruno have faced off only once before, in the 2006 Commonwealth Games final, and the Indian came out triumphant on that occasion.

"A tough draw or an easy draw, what matters in the end is the result. I have trained hard and hopefully it would show in the results that I get," the 28-year-old said.

"Competing at home will work to our team's advantage," he added.

Another of India's top medal contenders is Suranjoy (52kg), the reigning Asian champion and the gold medallist at last year's President's Cup where only top eight boxers of the world were invited by the International Boxing Association (AIBA).

The youngest member of the squad, 19-year-old Balwinder Beniwal, a gold medallist from last year's Youth Commonwealth Games, does not have to look too far for motivation as he has his illustrious first cousin Vijender for company in the team.

"I train a lot with Viju bhai and since he is around, I feel very confident about myself. I am not at all nervous and I am confident of winning a gold medal," said the spunky light welter weight (64kg) boxer.

The other members of the squad are no less accomplished. The light weight (60kg) division features Jai Bhagwan, a silver medallist from last year's Asian Championship, while Olympian Dinesh Kumar will be a favourite in the light heavy weight (81kg) category.

"Four months of training, I have to make it count. Winning an international medal is special but doing it in front of your own people is all the more significant," said Dinesh.

The Indian Team: Amandeep Singh (49kg), Suranjoy Singh (52kg), Akhil Kumar (56kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Balwinder Beniwal (64kg), Vijender Singh (75kg), Dinesh Kumar (81kg), Manpreet Singh (91kg), Paramjeet Samota (+91kg).

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