When an 18-year-old Vijender Singh had first represented India at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he had had little idea of what qualifying for the Games meant.
In fact, the Bhiwani teenager’s primary aim was to get a job as soon as possible.
“I didn’t realize how big the Olympics stage was,” Vijender Singh revealed during The Medal of Glory show on Sony Sports’ Facebook page.
“I thought at least I will get a better job with the Olympic tag attached to my name,” he added.
After he turned heads by winning the 2003 Afro Asian Games, Vijender Singh had surprised all by qualifying for the 2004 Olympics through the qualifiers in Karachi, Pakistan.
However, the magnitude of his achievement hit Vijender Singh only after he had reached Athens.
“I had no clue until I reached there. But, when I went there and saw the gathering, I said ‘yes, this is the biggest sporting event on the planet’, Vijender Singh recalled.
“When I entered the arena, my eyes lit up.”
Though an inexperienced Vijender Singh’s journey at Athens 2004 ended in the first round, after he lost to Turkey’s Mustafa Karagollu, it was during the medal presentation ceremony that it dawned upon him.
“During the medal ceremony I saw the four medallists (of the light welterweight category) on the podium and I felt that this is the real joy (to be on the podium),” the boxer recollected.
Rough sailing through qualifiers
By 2006, Vijender Singh’s objective had changed.
He had earned himself a government job at the North Western Railway and his sole focus now was to win an Olympic medal for his country.
He set about that path by winning a bronze medal at the 2006 Asian Games, a silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and a silver medal at the 2007 Asian championships.
“Everyone thought that Viju (Vijender Singh) will easily qualify at the Olympics (Beijing Games) and get a medal,” the pugilist said.
However, the qualifiers did not go smoothly for Vijender Singh, who had now shifted to the middleweight category (75kg).
Vijender Singh had exited in the second round of the first Olympic boxing qualification tournament in Thailand and in the first round of the second qualifiers in China.
The pugilist revealed that he was under extreme pressure before the last and final qualifier tournament in Kazakhstan.
“I didn’t go home in the 6-7 months building up to that [Kazakhstan boxing qualifiers], and trained in Patiala (training camp),” he said.
His hard work had paid off as he finally qualified for the 2008 Olympics by winning the gold medal in Kazakhstan.
Creating history in Beijing
Though the 13-3 score line of Vijender Singh’s second-round bout against the Thai pugilist painted a picture of a comprehensive victory, the boxer had left the ring bruised.
“He [Angkhan Chomphuphuang] was a Muay-Thai boxer and his elbow techniques injured me on my left side. I had a lot of treatment on my day off [before the quarter-final].”
While Vijender Singh was one win away from clinching Indian boxing’s first-ever Olympic medal, Akhil Kumar (54kg category) had become the talk of the town overnight.
“Akhil Kumar had beaten the world champion and there was huge media coverage,” Vijender Singh said.
“I remember that I was in the dressing room before the fight and many expected India to win a medal in boxing.
“But, Akhil lost in the quarterfinal and I was the last medal hope left in boxing,” Vijender Singh added.