Profiles the three gold medallists…
PAYAL (48 KG)
Payal was introduced to the sport by her childhood coach Amarjeet who saw a potential in her after watching her attend sparring sessions at an indoor boxing academy in Kaithal, Haryana. She would regularly visit the academy after her school hours in Sultanpur village and often enquire about the nitty-gritty of the game from fellow boxers. Amarjeet approached Payal’s parents and requested them to enroll their daughter at the academy. Her parents were more than happy to say yes since their meagre income was not enough for even Payal’s education.
Her father works as a mason looking for odd jobs while her mother is a sweeper at a government school. Payal has five sisters and an elder brother Gurpreet, who is also a youth-level pugilist (57kg).
“I come from a poor family background where there are days when we don’t have enough food on our plates. My parents can’t fund my training and competition needs and it’s Amarjeet sir who has supported me throughout my career. When I was in class five, I was told by coach sir to join the academy which I promptly did because I liked the sport. He took care of my diet and nutrition. My parents had no money to support me in boxing. Through this sport, I not only want to bring medal glory to the nation, but also want to earn enough to take care of the family’s financial needs,” said the 15-year-old.
Payal’s transition from a rookie boxer to a junior world champion in her 48kg category has been smooth. Last year, she won her first gold medal at the sub-junior Nationals in Karnataka’s Bellary and the junior Worlds in Armenia was her maiden international outing at any level.
“It was the first time I had flown out of India for any international competition. When I was selected for the Worlds, I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting this opportunity to come so early in my career. I was determined to bring the gold medal for India and I am happy to achieve the feat. This is my last year as a junior and next year, I’ll transition to the youth level,” she said.
For Nisha, boxing was a natural career choice. She comes from a family of boxers, with her aunt Kavita Chahal an Arjuna and Bhim awardee, four-time Asian and three-time World Police Games medallist. Her elder sister Lalita has already represented India internationally on several occasions.
However, for Nisha, the journey to success wasn’t easy owing to her humble family background, with her father Vinod Kumar working on farm lands as a contract labourer and mother Santosh Devi being a housewife.
“There were times when I didn’t have enough food to eat before going out for training. For a boxer, it’s important to have the right diet. In my case, I would have whatever little arranged by my father due to his limited source of income. One day, I’ll have a glass of juice and, for the next two days, I won’t have any. Dry fruits were a luxury. My initial years in the sport were very difficult. Things somewhat changed when I shifted to Bhiwani to train under coach Jagdish Singh (who also coached Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh) in 2019. It also helped with Kavita aunty around who took care of my financial needs. I have been selected for the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) National Boxing Academy in Rohtak. Now I can only concentrate on my boxing without having to worry about my diet and supplements,” said the 16-year-old from Rajasthan’s Churu district.
The year 2023 has turned out to be a golden year for Nisha. Last month, she participated in her first international competition at the Asian Junior Championships in Astana and returned with gold in the 52kg category. Her performance ensured her selection for the World junior meet in Armenia where she again punched her way to the top with a clinical display of sound technique, aggression and footwork.”Before going to the Worlds, Kavita aunty and Jagdish sir had told me that this was my moment of reckoning. Whatever hardships I have endured in my life, the Worlds was the perfect opportunity to announce my arrival on the Indian boxing scene. I am happy that I could bring the gold for India. Next year, my aim is to win gold at the Youth Olympics,” added Nisha, who started boxing at the age of nine.
Boxing wasn’t Akansha’s first career choice. She started her journey in sport as a wrestler, competing in her village meets organised by local akhadas. Her father Rajkumar was a state-level wrestler and had always dreamt of her daughter becoming the next Geeta Phogat – India’s first-ever gold medallist in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games.
However, regular injuries and a career-threatening shoulder dislocation prompted the family elders, including her father, to give up on their dream and enroll Akansha in boxing at the BM Academy in her village Raota in South West Delhi. “I started wrestling at the age of nine. I won several local competitions and was doing well in the sport when injuries started to take a toll on my body. I finally decided to quit it when my shoulder was dislocated. My father took me to a nearby boxing academy where I was coached by Brij Mohan sir and Mohit Dahiya sir. Initially, I found it difficult to adjust but gradually learnt the art of sparring. I am happy that I made the right career move and found my calling in boxing,” said the 16-year-old.
Akansha started competing in domestic tournaments only last year and left a lasting impression with her performance on the Boxing Federation of India’s (BFI) selectors during her bronze medal-winning show (70kg) at the junior Nationals in Manipur. Just like Nisha, this year Akansha participated in international tournaments for the first time and, in both the events – Asian junior and Worlds – she finished on the top of the podium. Her performance has ensured her selection at the SAI-run National Boxing Academy (NBA) in Rohtak.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for me. I never thought that I would be able to win gold at the Worlds in such a short time in my career. I have worked hard. My next target is to win gold at the Youth Olympics and then at the Summer Games in the future.”