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Time for boxer Nikhat Zareen to start from the scratch

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Nikhat had won a bronze medal at Asian Championship in 2019.

(Twitter)

Time for boxer Nikhat Zareen to start from the scratch

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Madhav Agarwal

11/09/2021

There is something common between Sena Irie (Japan), Kellie Harrington (Ireland), Busenaz Sürmeneli (Turkey), and Lauren Price (Great Britain) -- all Olympics gold medalists from Tokyo. These girls, irrespective of their age, had great exposure under their belt and were ready for the biggest stage.

Not only did they win the titles, as they were expected to, but they've also given a clear template for success at the Olympics, a template that could come in handy for the Indian management when it comes to grooming the next line of boxers -- invest in one pugilist for an Olympics cycle, and then move on to the others. 

For years now, Nizamabad's Nikhat Zareen has just been waiting in the wings for her turn to arrive. It was back in 2016 that she had moved into the senior category and since then nothing much has changed for her; She was, and still is 'the next big thing in Indian boxing'. Since then, the number of tiffs she has run into with six-time world champion Mary Kom, over the issue of non-inclusion in the Indian team, is greater than the tournaments she has managed to represent the country in.

Taking nothing away from Mary, who has been India's best boxer by a mile, the country can't always remain dependent on the veteran, when she is already nearing 40.  No one really knows where the buck stops. But for now, Zareen is focused on doing her bit. She recently showed her class when she won the Nationals in Hisar and was also given the title of 'best boxer' at the championship.

What this also means is that she has sealed the berth for a World Championship to be held later this year in Istanbul, a tournament she is pinning hopes on to revive her career. And luckily enough, this time around there is no Mary Kom in her way, who skipped the Nationals and might go back to 48kg for the competition. 

"I don't know what would have happened had we faced off at the Nationals. Anyways, the only goal would have been to win and secure the ticket for the World Championship and that is what I have done now. I thought I completely dominated and not losing even a single round shows that. But again the focus remains on own performance and not on others," Zareen told SportCafe in an exclusive interaction.  

Mary, despite all her achievements, is not invincible, and that showed at the Olympics too, where she lost in the pre-quarters. And had she participated at the Nationals, she could have been upset there too. All this, and keeping Mary's age in mind, one can only wonder, would Zareen have been a better choice for the Olympics? While there was no guarantee of the 25-year-old getting a medal, but she would have gained some invaluable experience, which she has been robbed of consistently.

Even the result of the trial bout held between the two, for a berth at the Olympics, was questionable, to say the least. A cautious Zareen describing the events that unfolded during that bout, said, "It's in the past now. Nothing really went wrong, and I just accepted the decision which was given. All I can do is now learn from those mistakes and make sure that I don't repeat them.

"This is one of the toughest weight categories in boxing. Now, I'm just happy that I'm starting to make a name for myself, and am the national champion in the flyweight category. It is good to know that from 2016 till now, despite having not played much, a lot of people back me. I mean that is the only thing a sportsperson can ask for, the support from the fans. Throughout the lows in my career, I have only told one thing to myself -- that I have to win a medal for India at the Olympics," she added. 

Whether Zareen finally realises her true potential is a debate to be saved for later, but a fellow boxer and the reigning national champion in the 70kg category, Arundhati, summed up aptly, how the former's career trajectory could have been different had preferential treatment been not given to a senior boxer. Interestingly, Arundhati too is being denied a chance to participate at the Worlds, to accommodate Tokyo bronze medalist Lovlina Borgohain, who didn't take part in the Nationals.  

"Sportspersons have a very short shelf life. A boxer has 5-7 years of peak performance. They destroyed Nikhat Zareen's career."

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