IBA World Boxing Championships | After Sena Irie's retirement, Japan on course to finding new champion
New Delhi is hosting the IBA Women's World Boxing Championship 2023 from March 16 to March 26, in which over 300 athletes from across the world are participating. That gives SportsCafe a chance to track down the journeys of some of the top players, and also some of the upcoming ones.
Japan's Sena Irie, who won the first-ever Olympics gold for her country in women's boxing in Tokyo, is quite a character. At just 20, after already doing the unprecedented, it wasn't boxing she wanted to pursue but dreamt of producing video games instead. All this, after having picked up boxing at the age of seven, with her inspiration being a character from a sports manga -- Ganbare Genki.
It has been a year since she signed off from her amateur career with a silver medal at the Asian Championships, and Team Japan seems to have finally come to terms with her decision, with coach Ida Takeshi developing the new line of boxers. Irie's close friend, Rinka Kinoshita, who also hails from Tottori and trains at Nippon Sports Science University like the gold medalist, has already moved into the semis of the flyweight category, assuring herself of a bronze. This makes Ida a relieved man and allows him to focus now on bigger tournaments, as the World Championships medal is just not enough.
"It’s a bit unfortunate that Irie retired so young. But her thought process is totally different from others and she wants to do well in other fields, after her Olympic gold. She said 'I’ve moved on with my life but I would still do my best to support boxing and keep on cheering for upcoming athletes'.
Irie, who grew up watching manga, ended up pulling off something worthy of a Bollywood script but there have been instances in the past where athletes just didn't want to restrict themselves to one sphere of life. Australia's Ash Barty ended her tennis career abruptly after winning three Glam Slam titles and an Olympic bronze. She was a cricketer too and had played professionally in the Women's Big Bash League, before making a return to tennis again, eventually taking a retirement from both. Perhaps this is the sign of a new-age champion.
"She won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and the Japanese team was really happy when she did. I think that what she did as an Asian person was huge. She proved to everyone that even Asians could win gold medals at the Olympics in boxing. That has paved the way for the younger generations in Japan at least.
"That is how some of the players think nowadays and we can't complain. If having an alternate career in mind while playing gets you gold at the Olympics, we ideally should not be complaining," he continued.
For now, the coach is focussing all his energy on getting Rinka a finals berth, but again, the Olympics remains the ultimate dream, and he says it with a twinkle in his eyes.
"She has already confirmed a bronze medal here and is a really strong boxer. We would want a medal from her at the Olympics as well, just like her childhood friend Irie did. There is still a long way to go for her, but we have a sound system in place back home, so getting more champions is a matter of time, hopefully."