The Leander Paes punch behind boxer Manoj Kumar's path to Olympics
He was not even in his teens when Rajesh agreed to train younger brother Manoj on one condition - that he will have to try and do what Leander Paes did at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta - and stand on the podium.
“It was towards the end of 1997 or the beginning of 1998,” Manoj Kumar recounted during an Instagram Live with former wrestler Sangram Singh.
“My brother saw me fight and asked if I wanted to learn boxing properly. But he had one condition,” he explained. “He showed me a picture of Leander Paes from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in a local newspaper and explained how he won India’s first tennis medal at the Games.
“He said ‘I will teach you boxing only if you promise to aspire to reach where this guy has.’ I said yes.” he narrated.
“From that day, our relationship changed from being brothers to that of a coach and student’s. And till now, we share a very special bond,” he added.
Promise fulfilled on the Olympic stage
The promise, as it turned out, was Manoj Kumar’s first step in a journey which eventually saw him stand toe-to-toe against the world’s best on the Olympic stage.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist fulfilled his oath during the London 2012 Games, representing the tricolour at the Olympics, just as Leander Paes did.
At the Games, he faced off against Turkmenistan’s Serdar Hudayberdiyev, a former Asian Boxing Championships gold medallist, in the first round.
Manoj Kumar cruised through with a 13-7 verdict to set up a pre-quarterfinal contest against British boxer Thomas Stalker, world no. 1 in the rankings at the time.
Up against the local favourite, Manoj Kumar went down 16-20 – a defeat which, the Indian boxer admits, was a hard pill to swallow.
He represented his country at the Rio 2016 Games as well, reaching the pre-quarterfinal stage yet again.
M. KUMAR (IND) df. E. PETRAUSKAS (LTU), 2:1
M. KUMAR (IND) df. E. PETRAUSKAS (LTU), 2:1Men's Light Welter (64kg) Preliminaries
Not in running for the upcoming Tokyo Games, the Haryana boxer is now aiming to pass on the torch of the Olympic dream to future generations.
“Now, I feel that I can pass on the experience to the deserving youngsters in our country. That is one of the reasons behind me starting my own boxing academy.
“I want them to win medals for our country,” he said, pledging his support for the future.