Mohammed Ali Qamar is a former Indian boxer who represented the country in international events, in the late '90s and early 2000s. He became the first from the country to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, 20 years earlier, and later went on to become the national women's coach.
By the time 1970 had arrived, India had started to shine at the Commonwealth Games. At the Edinburgh Games, the country finished sixth in the medals tally, with five gold, three silver, and four bronze medals. That was an era where our victories centered around wrestling, while weightlifting was picking up, having fetched a medal each in two consecutive editions. That was also the year when an Indian, for the first time in the history of the Games, had won a medal in boxing -- Sivaji Bhonsle's bronze in the welterweight category.
From there on, till the turn of the century, our boxers did consistently get CWG medals in every edition, but for gold, India had to only look up to its wrestlers, weightlifters, and slowly shooters. In short, no boxer delivered the knockout punch for gold. In 1998, middleweight boxer Jitender Kumar did make it to the final but lost to John Pearce of England in the final. In fact, although the country had a gold medal the same year at the Asian Games, by late Dingko Singh, but we just couldn't seem to break the CWG jinx.
By the time Manchester 2002 arrived, India had built a decent boxing squad, which was young, hungry for medals, trained with the best in Cuba, and had adequate experience under their belt. Mohammed Ali Qamar, who in the tournament became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the CWG, was already a quarter-finalist at the World Championship and had the skill and the desire to be at the top.
The former coach of the national women's team recalled, that right from the time he had stepped into the senior's camp, a lot of work was being done in the background. And the presence of some of the top boxers in the camp, who had won internationally, only served as an inspiration.
"I think India's improvement in the sport was gradual. I remember Dingko Singh was one of our inspirations, then there was Jitender as well. He had won a silver in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and all of this was our motivation. I had just become a part of the senior team and the aim was to give the best performance in whichever tournament I participated in," Ali told SportsCafe.
"In '99 I went for my first senior national camp and at that time I even played in the Asian Championship and World Championship. At the Worlds, I reached the quarter-finals. So after playing all these tournaments I thought I had the right preparation for the CWG. Also, at that time because the internet wasn’t there we wouldn’t see who the world number 1 was and would focus only on our training. We used to practice in Cuba because they used to conduct summer camps over there. After going there we gained tons of experience. We sparred with a lot of senior boxers and a lot of Olympic boxers which helped us gain a lot of experience."
Getting Ready for CWG
Qamar mentions that a lot of emphasis was paid to little aspects too, which could make a huge impact on the overall outcome. The Bulgarian coach Peter Lesov made them train as per Manchester time, which would usually be post midnight in India, which helped the team acclimatize better, once the tournament started. "They trained us according to the time zone over there 10 days before the tournament. We used to start at 11pm and end at 2am. I'm sure that kind of training too did play its part, and then we also focussed a lot on our basics. We just knew we'd win if took care of these small aspects."
Injury at CWG 2002
Even before the tournament started for Ali, he had a minor accident at the events village, due to which he could not train for a few days. In fact, he was not even sure whether he'd be able to participate or not. But fortunately for him and Team India, his matches were scheduled for the latter half of the tournament, which gave him enough time to recover well.
Ali recalls, "The day we reached the Games VillageI had an accident of sorts. We were all waiting to enter the village and were at the security check. There was a slope there, and someone left their trolley unattended, which hit me in the right leg. At that time, it did hurt me a little, but I thought I'd be okay. After that happened, I couldn’t practice for the next 2 days with shoes since there was a blood clot in the back of my leg. For the same reason, I could not also attend the opening ceremony. But all said and done, I got close to a week to recover."
During the Tournament
Ali obviously had an outstanding tournament and was a class apart. But his opponent in the final, Darren Langley, was a home favorite and was leading the bout until the last round. In fact, the Indian survived a standing count too but somehow managed to outscore his opponent in the last round, 10-3. But all that happened in the final, sounds dramatic, to say the least.
"So my first bout was against Loreto and I RSC'd (Referee Stops Contest) him. I just went all out against him, and before I could realize it, I had scored 20 points, while he hadn't scored any. Mind you, this boxer had RSC'd an Australian boxer coming into the contest.
"I was confident in the final but somehow I was trailing. There was some confusion between the coaches during my final bout. The Bulgarian coach told me that I was winning comfortably, while the Indian coach (GS Sandhu) said I was down by five points. Those days, the scores used to only come on TVs. So someone from back home had pointed out, that I was trailing. I think all this was after the third round. So that was when I decided to give it my all. In the bout, I also got a standing count, but I recovered well to win 27-25.
"I thought at some point, I wasn't getting some points despite connecting well. So in the last round, I raised my hands to signal to the judges that I connected. Had I still not gotten the points, then at least there would have been ample proof available, that I did. But it all worked out well in the end," he continued.
History was Created
If one revisits the final bout video, an ecstatic Ali can be seen jumping in joy even before the result is announced by the referee. He was later hugged by then coach GS Sandhu in a manner, that would have crushed his bones, and rightly so. India, and Qamar had created history.
"Yes. After the match was over there was a lot of celebration inside the ring. I think a lot of members from our contingent had come to see the match as well. Our sports minister at that time, Uma Bharti also came and hugged me. The feeling could just not sink in. We soon left for India, and it was a festival here. There were thousands in Kolkata who came to receive me, standing with the Indian flag. It was truly a memorable moment."