World Champion Nikhat Zareen led from the front an Indian charge in the boxing ring as the country won three gold medals in Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and were poised for their best-ever performance in terms of gold count.
India had won three gold medals in the 2018 edition at Gold Coast and they matched it on Sunday with Nikhat, Nitu, and Amit Panghal winning their respective finals. In all India had won nine gold medals in 2018, the same as England but the former were the top team as they won five gold medals.
In the 2022 edition, the roles seemed to have reversed as India have won three gold medals and three bronze thus far while England have no gold in the five medals they bagged so far. The solid performance coming in the absence of a proven champion like MC Mary Kom, who pulled out of the trials because of an injury, augurs well for Indian boxing as the new back of champions is taking shape.
And fittingly, it was a youngster Nitu Ganghas that started the show for India when she beat R. Damie-Jade 5-0 in a unanimous decision, putting up an authoritative performance. She was quick on her feet and dominated her opponent in the bout to emerge the winner.
The 22-year-old southpaw from Bhiwani in Haryana is one of the quickest boxers in her category and had to fight a lot of taboos to continue her career in boxing. That effort and dedication was rewarded on Sunday as she won her first gold in Commonwealth Games with an easy win.
"I'm so happy after winning this gold medal. I want to dedicate this medal to the people of my country. I want to thank the Govt of India, SAI, and BFI for all the support. I'd also like to thank my coaches & my family as because of their support i was able to win this gold medal. Thank you to NCOE Rohtak too where I had trained for many years," Nitu said after winning the gold medal.
Amit Panghal was next into the ring and came out triumphant, adding the gold medal to his Asian Championship wins, beating Kiaran Macdonald 5-0 on points in another unanimous decision in the Men's Flyweight (over 48-51kg) division.
Panghal dominated the scores on all five judges' cards with as he got a perfect 10 from each of them. He continued his dominant show as he landed some good punches in the in second too and did not allow Macdonald many chances to take control of the bout.
The English boxer made some last-ditch attacks in the third and final round and even managed to be adjudged a closer winner by one of the five judges but Amit had done enough even in this round to get a unanimous decision.
Nikhat made it three out of three for India with a solid performance despite participating in a new weight category. She had won the world championship gold in 52 kg but as that weight category has been included neither in CWG nor in Asian Games, Nikhat decided to come down to 50kg. She was as effective in this division too as she dominated Carly McNaul of Northern Ireland to win a unanimous 5-0 verdict in the 50kg final on Sunday.
Nikhat had sparred with McNaul during a training camp in Belfast with the Irish national team and had already sorted out the Irish national champion.
As the Northern Ireland boxer is good at clutching and counter-attacking, Nikhat decided to keep her distance and did not allow her to come close. She blocked her rival's attack with her right and used jabs to counter-attack. She dominated the bout and had perfect scores from all five judges.
"It feels great to be a Commonwealth Games champion, especially after becoming a world champion earlier this year. It feels good to win another gold medal for my country. It was a really good fight. She was an experienced fighter, but my only focus was to win this bout," said Nikhat after her bout.
Asked about the three gold medals won by India on Sunday, Nikhat said, "It's a good day for Indian boxing. This is our third gold medal so far, and hopefully, we get the fourth one in the evening session when Sagar fights."
Asked about the growth of women's boxing in India and Mary Kom's role in that, Nikhat said, "Women's boxing is growing in India since Mary Kom won a bronze medal at the Olympics (London 2012). She has been a great inspiration for every boxer in India.
"I have always looked up to her and she inspired me in so many ways. Now I want to enjoy this gold medal but, because of her, I will soon work hard for my next competition," she said.
It is not only Nikhat but the other Indian medal winners that have to continue to work hard in the next two years if India are to win a gold medal at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
( 868 Words)