Earlier in March, Pooja Rani became the first Indian boxer to qualify for the 2020 Olympics at the Asia-Oceania qualifiers in Amman, Jordan. Eight others booked their Tokyo ticket after Pooja took India’s overall tally to nine, which is the country’s biggest-ever boxing contingent in Olympic history.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) along with the Japanese government decided to move the Tokyo games to 2021 due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and Pooja welcomed the decision.
“The Olympics is postponed and it’s a good thing because the (coronavirus) outbreak not only affects our country but the entire world. They (IOC) have taken a good step,” said the 2014 Asian Games bronze medalist.
After returning from Jordan, the Indian pugilists were asked by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) to maintain a 14-day quarantine period at their respective homes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Once we returned to India we were asked to remain in quarantine for 14 days due to the pandemic. We’d been continuously practising for a very long time. I haven’t been at home in a while. The entire process was so tiring until the Asian qualification tournament.
“I had already thought that once the competition was over, I should spend some time with my family. Most of us were supposed to rest fully for a week and I’m happy to stay home. Coming 27th (Friday) the quarantine period ends,” Pooja added.
With the Tokyo Olympics moved to next year, the Indian boxers will need to rethink their strategies and plans in the coming months.
“Initially, I was supposed to undergo high-intensity training after the break. But after learning that the Olympics has been postponed, I’ve been doing some yoga and strength training. We have one more year to practice for the Olympics now. We’ll train even better and do well at Tokyo 2021,” the 29-year-old said.
Over the last two years, Indian boxing has reached great heights with the country’s boxers winning several medals at World Championships and other major events. Pooja credited the BFI for the nation’s transformation at the global stage.
“The federation (BFI) is giving us a lot of exposure. We take part in camps in other countries. China has a very good boxing team and we have practised with them as sparring partners. We’ve learnt a lot as we meet experienced boxers in seven to eight competitions around the world every year. Due to these things, we’ve been able to provide good results consistently in the last two years and Indian boxing has gone to the next level.”
In 2018, after a two-year hiatus due to various injuries, Pooja came back in style to become the national champion in the 81kg (light-heavyweight) category. A year later, she beat World champion Wang Lina of China to claim the Asian Championships gold medal in Bangkok.
Pooja has now qualified for the Olympics in the 75kg (middleweight) category and she went on to thank Lakshya Sports for helping her through her tough time.
“My right hand got burnt very badly while bursting crackers during Diwali 2016 and it took me five to six months to fully recover from that. After that, I started practising again and injured my right shoulder immediately. I was mentally down because of these constant injuries and I never believed that I would qualify for the Tokyo Olympics back then,” said the 2016 South Asian Games champion.
“It took me one year to recover from the shoulder injury. A year later, I won the Asian Championships defeating the World Champion and now I’ve qualified for the Olympics as well. When I was injured, Lakshya (Sports) had supported me.
“They hired a physio for me, helping me develop my strength, and provided a nutritionist too. The mental conditioning coach Swaroop (Savanur) used to always communicate with me. Whenever I used to feel down, he helped me a lot. Now I feel a lot better and he still counsels me,” she recalled.
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