Vijender: Tokyo-bound boxers have lost momentum, will have to start from scratch again Photograph:( AFP )
Olympic-medallist and one of the greatest sporting icons of India, Vijender Singh, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, spoke about a lot of things ranging from life in lockdown, Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield, challenges of easing back to full fitness, India's boxing contingent for Tokyo Olympics, future of contact sports, and much more.
Olympic-medallist and one of the greatest sporting icons of India, Vijender Singh, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, spoke about a lot of things ranging from life in lockdown, Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield easing back to full fitness, India's boxing contingent for Tokyo Olympics, future of contact sports, and much more.
Digvijay Singh Deo: Vijender, you are a man of action so how frustrated has this lockdown left you?
Vijender Singh: I think it is important to stay at home while the virus is out there. By staying home, we are saving lives. This will be a tough battle and all of us have to play our part. So I'm home and spending quality time with my family.
DSD: The one thing that I have always admired about you is your street-smartness inside the boxing ring and it has helped you this time. You decided to move from your place in Gurgaon to your in-laws at the last moment...
Vijender Singh: Yes, that's true. I'm actually thinking about going to my village. Sometimes I feel a bit bored here and if the government restrictions are eased, then I will go to my village with the family and start working there. That will give me the opportunity to teach my son activities like gardening. The whole world is suffering in this crisis and the sporting calendar has been wrecked. Everyone is in the same boat, I just hope we can overcome this crisis together.
DSD: Fitness is everything in boxing so how have you been managing the last two months?
Vijender Singh: I'm not doing hardcore training, but still doing basic exercises like skipping drills and push-ups to maintain my fitness levels. I try to have a session at least once a day in the evening. Fortunately, I have some space here and I am using it to work out, so I can say that I am in shape.
DSD: At-least you can now head back to a boxing ring with the lockdown restrictions being eased obviously with certain safety precautions.
Vijender Singh: yes, it certainly is good news that athletes can return to their training. Albeit while following the government's strict guidelines. With the Olympics being 14 months away, it is important for the country's sportspersons to get back in the groove. However, I believe the athletes will still have a lot of apprehensions about competing at major events during the pandemic, even while training they will be extremely cautious.
DSD: How big a relief will that be for India's sportspersons.most of them have been stuck at home without any training for the last 2 months and you know that in high-intensity sports even a week without training needs a lot of catching up to do.
Vijender Singh: I think the athletes should only start individual training, they should travel to the facility or stadium, finish their session and come back home. We cannot start training in groups as I think it will increase the risk of infection. No crowds should be allowed in any facility and social distancing must still be maintained.
DSD: You won medals at the highest level for India be it at the Olympics, world championship, Asian games and commonwealth games. What advice do you have for those whose Olympic dream has been dashed by a year? So what was initially a 4-year journey to the Olympics is now a 5-year journey.
Vijender Singh: It is a huge mental challenge for all sportspersons, but there is no option. They have to keep their wits about them and stay focussed. I think it is also important to stay fit, which in itself is preparation for the Olympics next year. I would advise all the athletes not to leave their immediate premises and follow the guidelines. We are fighting an unprecedented pandemic and our health has to be the priority. We have to ensure that the virus does not reach the levels it has in countries like the USA, UK and Italy, where the damage has been absolutely devastating.
DSD: Tell us why it is extremely difficult for the boxers who have qualified for the Olympics. It's 14 more months of pushing your body to the limit isn't it every single day. I have seen you train for the Olympics and after every session, all of you were flat on your beds sleeping. It is extremely brutal.
Vijender Singh: There is extra effort, which also means extra pressure on the athletes. When you train for the Olympics, there is an internal battle as well. It definitely takes a toll. Most of the athletes must have been approaching the final stages of their preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in march this year, but now they have to start from scratch. I think it is a huge setback for athletes because all the momentum has been lost. I hope the athletes can adapt and win medals for the country at next year's Olympics.
DSD: You started India's boxing story at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Now already 9 boxers qualified for the Olympics which is the most and we still have one more shot. We had a lull in 2016 but how do you see this crop of boxers...
Vijender Singh: I must say their recent performances have been excellent. Nine Indian boxers have qualified for the Olympics, making it the country's largest contingent ever for the event. That just shows how far Indian boxing has come, I am confident that the contingent will be able to make the country proud. Amit Panghal is a world-class boxer, he is world No 1 right now and also the reigning Asian Games gold medalist, so there is no reason why he cannot do well at the Olympics.
DSD: Two of them though still around from your time, Vikas Krishan and Mary Kom. Just looking at them shows what that Olympic passion is all about. Twice Vikas has come close and mary is fighting age...
Vijender Singh: It is all the more difficult for mary because she has four kids now. It is a very hard balancing act but she is able to somehow manage. She is an inspiration to all Indians, including me. Her determination is exemplary and she instils belief in all of us. Vikas is a very experienced boxer, he has been to two Olympics and that will work in his favour at next year's games.
DSD: Is it going to be easy to train especially in contact sports. The athletes in most non-contact sports can get back to their lives but if you have seen say the boxing s.o.p for resumption then how do you train without sparring.
Vijender Singh: Frankly speaking, I have no idea. The coaches might have a plan in mind, but you can only train with a punching bag for so many days. At the end of the day, you need a sparring partner and I have no idea when boxers will be able to train in pairs. The only thing we can do is hope that these restrictions are relaxed soon.
DSD: Some of the other rules, for example, are also bizarre, no physiotherapy or massages…these are extremely crucial aspects for elite performance.
Vijender Singh: Injuries are extremely common in boxing. It's part of the sport, I get cuts, bruises and scars after my bouts and one need physio or a trainer to recover. Unfortunately, right now strict guidelines do need to be followed and we must adhere to them.
DSD: I think there has to come a time when you have to let go of this fear, of course, while taking the necessary precautions. Organising a training camp with minimal number of individuals is a real possibility.
Vijender Singh: When you are training for an event like the Olympics, athletes also need to be able to cool off and let their hair down. It is essential for their mental well-being because there is so much pressure on them. This will not be possible in a quarantine camp as they will be stuck in a sort of containment zone. From time to time, athletes need to be able to relax, go out and interact with other people. If the athletes do nothing but train, then it will invite more pressure on them.
DSD: For you Vijender, where does this pandemic leave your professional boxing career. Its been a while since you last fought and chances of travelling abroad look bleak at the moment.
Vijender Singh: I have made a kind of road-map for the future with my trainers. I am going to start isolated training sessions soon. Earlier I was supposed to train in the US, but obviously that is not possible right now. The eventual plan is to be able to hold bouts in India, which can be shown live to viewers on the internet or television. Although this is just a tentative plan, nothing is set in stone.
DSD: I hope you have been following what is going on in the world of boxing. Two all-time greats Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield been showing off their skills .what do you make of it.
Vijender Singh: it is absolutely incredible that they are thinking of a coming back to the ring at this age. I actually met Evander Holyfield a while back in Los Angeles and I must say he looked extremely fit. The key is to be able to stay fit at that age. If the Tyson vs Holyfield match does go ahead, it will be the biggest bout of the century.
DSD: Both want to fight again, there is talk of an exhibition fight considering the history. But at their age isn't this is a huge risk.
Vijender Singh: No, I don't think so. Both of them are at the same age and if they feel they can get back into the ring, then they should be fine. Boxing is all about heart. I don't think it will be a great danger, both of them are legends of the game and they certainly know how to fight. Boxing fans around the world will love to see them back in action.
DSD: Who has impressed you more? I must say I was feeling for Mike Tyson's trainer in the video he posted, Tyson was really going at it.
Vijender Singh: Yes, Tyson is looking menacing, but Holyfield is an animal. I have been a fan of Holyfield for a long time and my money is on him if a fight happens.
DSD: What is that one thing you are most looking forward to doing once the lockdown ends?
Vijender Singh: I just to want to take a long holiday and relax. I'm thinking about going to goa, maybe that will be the perfect way to enter life in the post-COVID era.