The indomitable Nikhat Zareen continued to shine bright while Lovlina Borgohain rediscovered her winning touch as hosts India capped off a memorable campaign in the Women’s Boxing World Championships, fetching four gold medals.
With the Paris Olympics approaching, it augurs well that the Indian contingent matched its best performance in terms of gold medals.
The highlight of the tournament was Nikhat becoming only the second Indian to win the World Championships twice after the legendary MC Mary Kom, who has an unprecedented six titles on the global stage.
The emergence of three new champions in Lovlina (75kg), Nitu Ghanghas (48kg) and Saweety Boora (81kg) and some promising performances from the likes of Preeti Pawar (54kg) were also key takeaways from the tournament.
Nikhat had to battle through six exhausting bouts, including playing back-to-back pre-quarters, quarterfinals and semifinals. She got precious little recovery, and the fact that she defeated tough opponents under immense pressure of performing at home, is a testament to her mental resolve and fitness.
The 50kg field was one of the toughest with 35 boxers vying for the top honours. Several pugilists had either gained or cut down their weight to make the cut for the light flyweight class as it is an Olympic category.
“These World Championships were tougher than last time as I had to manage my weight, and follow a strict diet,” Nikhat, who won the 52kg title last year in Istanbul, said.
Considered a high-performing asset, Lovlina’s triumph is also an encouraging sign.
For one, Lovlina has broken the ‘bronze jinx’ that she admitted ahead of the tournament was affecting her psychologically. The 25-year-old had three bronze — two at the World Championships and one at the Tokyo Olympics — coming into the mega event.
The win at home following a series of underwhelming results, including the 2022 Commonwealth Games, will do a world of good to Lovlina’s confidence.
However, both Nikhat and Lovlina are still adapting to their new weight categories and have several aspects to work on.
Another boxer who impressed despite making a pre-quarterfinal exit was young Preeti.
Competing in the 54kg category, the 19-year-old packed a punch in her three rounds as she toppled the top seed and last edition’s silver medallist Lacramioara Perijoc of Romania before going down to two-time Worlds medallist Thailand’s Jitpong Jutamas in a fiercely-contested bout.
The performances of the last edition’s bronze medallist Manisha Moun (57kg), Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jaismine Lamboria (60kg) and Manju Bamboriya, all competing in Olympic categories, however, left a lot to be desired.
Jaismine promised a lot but didn’t quite deliver as she was completely outboxed in the quarterfinal.
Overall, India topped the medals tally, but it should be noted that the field was depleted.
More than 10 countries boycotted the event after the International Boxing Association (IBA) went against the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) recommendations and allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under their own flags.
To put things in perspective, five of the boycotting nations — USA, Ireland, Canada, Poland and Netherlands — had finished in the top-10 in the last two editions of the tournament.
In the light heavyweight (81kg) and heavyweight (81+) categories, there wasn’t much competition as only 13 and 12 pugilists respectively were competing for the top prize.
Saweety, who received a first-round bye, had to play only three bouts to be crowned champion. While her win is a great personal achievement, but in the context of the Olympics, it doesn’t mean much as 81kg is a non-Olympic category.
The nearest weight category she can drop down to before 2024 Paris is middleweight (75kg), where Lovlina has already made the cut for the first Olympic qualifiers — the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Similarly, Nitu, who had a fabulous run in the non-Olympic minimum weight division, will have to contend with being a standby to Nikhat in the 50kg category for the Asian Games as 48kg doesn’t feature in the Paris Olympics curriculum.