Nikhat Zareen CWG 2022 Gold Mary Kom boxing boxer no challenger exclusive interview breaking news

The last four months have put Indian boxer Nikhat Zareen on another pedestal in world boxing. After winning gold in the 52kg category at the World Championships in Istanbul in May, she improved her performance again at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham earlier this month, winning gold in the 50kg category kg. Both being her first gold medals in the respective competitions, the 26-year-old boxer from Hyderabad has come of age in her chosen sport. She is determined to bring more laurels to the country and has set her sights on Paris 2024.

In this exclusive interview with news18.com, Zareen reflects on her World Championship and CWG Gold Medal performances and also looks to the future. Excerpts from the conversation with the immensely determined and focused boxer:

How do you view the CWG gold medal?

In fact, I didn’t expect to perform so well in the CWG. I was nervous. It was a new experience for me to box in the 50 kg category. I was looking forward to fighting in this category and concentrating on giving my best. The kind of hard work I put in after the Worlds and the way I prepared for CWG, I’m happy with how I performed at CWG. Before the CWG, I had two weeks of training in Ireland. It helped me analyze my opponents in CWG. I also fought with them. It helped me gain confidence in Birmingham.

You won gold at the World Championships in May. Now CWG gold. How have things changed for you personally and with your boxing?

Certainly, it changed me as a person. Before, I was nobody, nobody knowing my name. Now people started sending me messages, they started inviting me to their homes. It feels good that people are starting to like me, show me a lot of love, and have a lot of expectations of me. For my part, I was always focused, always wanting to give my 100% in all the competitions in which I participated. I am happy to have been able to win gold medals at the World Championships and at the CWG.

WATCH: Nikhat Zareen shares emotional video reliving his CWG victory

How hard is it to be on top of your game in back-to-back tournaments and win gold – you won World Championships in May and CWG gold in August. If the Asian Games hadn’t been postponed, you should have peaked for that as well, right?

Whatever happens, happens for a good reason. If the Asian Games are postponed, there must be a good reason for it. For me, it’s a good thing that the Asian Games are postponed because I have a lot more time to prepare for it. Staying in top form for back-to-back competitions isn’t easy. In February of this year, I won the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament in Bulgaria; in May, I won the world championships; in August, CWG Gold. Again, if there had been consecutive Asian Games, it would have been very tiring for me. Now that it has been postponed, I have plenty of time to prepare for the Asian Games next year. Before that we also have other competitions, and I have to start preparing for that. Next year is very important for me because the Olympic qualifications will start. Certainly, I want to continue as I do. I hope to continue this beautiful race.

From the World Championships to the CWG, how have you maintained your top form? It’s not easy to win consecutive gold medals, is it?

Decidedly, it is not easy to win in a row. Not only did I have to maintain my best fitness level, but I also had to reduce my weight by 2 kg to enter the 50 kg category. It was hard for me. I managed to get down to 50kg and I managed to box. I wasn’t ready, actually. I haven’t had a lot of time to train for this weight class. I only had a month to prepare for the CWG. I boxed in 52 kg at the world championships. In CWG, I played in the 50 kg category. I wanted to have the same strength, power and speed in my punches in the 50 kg category as well. It was not easy. During the training camp in Ireland, I also used to work on my strength, training with other national boxers. It helped me maintain the same kind of fitness, strength and speed.

Losing 2 kg of weight may seem like a small amount, but it’s easier said than done, isn’t it? How much change do you need to undergo for this 2 kg change?

After the World Championships, I didn’t have time to celebrate my gold medal. I went home for just three days and then returned to Delhi to begin preparations for the CWG trials. In the meantime, I did five days of training including three days of training with training partners. I needed to adjust my eyesight too because in the ring your eyes have to be sharp to see the punches coming at you. After the tryouts, I took a few days off, celebrated my birthday (Nikhat Zareen turned 26 on June 14), and then started preparations for the CWG. I didn’t have time for Biryani and other dishes which I like. Because I had to reduce 2 kg, I had to avoid all fatty substances. I was very disciplined and said, “I could have biryani and other delicious dishes after I won CWG gold.” The main goal was to reduce 2 kg and maintain 50 kg. Food was secondary for me.

Nikhat Zareen presents boxing gloves to Prime Minister Modi, Hima Das presents traditional gamocha

Until about last year, every time you were talked about it was in the same length as Mary Kom, challenging her for that spot in your weight class. Now, with the recent wins, is it fair to say that you’ve come of age and established yourself in your weight class?

I want to be known as Nikhat Zareen and not as a Mary Kom challenger. She is a legend, no doubt. I’ve worked hard for so many years to not just be called the “next Mary Kom”. The way she has a lot of achievements, if I am able to win such medals, it will be a good thing for me. I want to be like her but I want to be known as Nikhat Zareen. I’m glad people are starting to know who Nikhat Zareen is. Now I focus on winning as I have done lately.

Do you still consider Mary Kom as a challenge for you?

For the Paris qualifiers, it’s not going to be easy for me. There are other girls who are very good, young and talented, especially all the girls coming from the youth category who have won medals at the world championships. Manju Rani is a senior World Championship silver medalist and Nitu Ghanghas is a Commonwealth gold medalist. Everyone is good. It’s good to have healthy competition. At the same time, I will work hard. Whoever succeeds will be selected for the Paris qualifiers. For my part, I will leave nothing to chance in my quest. My dream is to win a medal at the Paris Olympics. I know I missed Tokyo but I want to win a medal in Paris. I’ll give it my best shot.

Are there areas you still need to work on?

Currently I’m happy with my training – the amount of training we get, sparring partners, the amount of exposure we get through SAI, we had training in Ireland before CWG. There are a lot of things to work on. Nobody is perfect. Paris is a platform where I cannot make the slightest mistake. I have to be very careful. I want to improve my game. I want to improve my game every year.

How much does Lovlina Borgohain winning India’s third Olympic boxing medal (after Vijender Singh in 2008 and Mary Kom in 2012) last year in Tokyo inspire you in your quest for Paris 2024? Surely you would like to be the first Indian to win an Olympic silver or gold medal in boxing…

This time we have six weight classes for women. In Tokyo, we only had five, and it was three in Rio. Definitely, I think we are going to perform well at the Paris Olympics. We have a lot of good boxers. Clearly, we have a bright future.

You have always been consistently winning in the Strandja tournament. How different are the challenges of this tournament compared to winning the World Championships or the CWG or for that matter the Olympics?

The Olympics will be very difficult because all the best of the best will participate. Strandja is the oldest competition in Europe. It may be a small competition compared to others, but it is still a tough competition. I beat a few Olympic silver medalists on my way to Strandja. In the final, I beat Tetiana Kob in the final, bronze medalist at the World Championships and gold medalist at the European Championships. It was not easy. Winning the Strandja gold medal helped me do well at the World Championships. I gained confidence after winning Strandja. These competitions helped me improve my game.

Which victory do you cherish the most?

Of course, the world championships win. This is a huge achievement for me. Each competition has the same importance for me. I won the junior world championships in 2011 and after many years I was able to win the senior world championships. In CWG, I really had a good time, good competition. I was delighted to meet athletes from other disciplines, I knew that everyone would come and cheer you on. It was a good atmosphere for me. Finally, I won gold in Birmingham and I’m very happy.

Who do you admire in other disciplines?

My friend Vinesh Phogat wrestling. I admire how hard she works, no matter what she has faced in life, not many people can handle such things like her. She made me want to work hard. I always wanted her to succeed and I hope her dream of winning medals for the country will come true. She was there to cheer me up during the boxing final in Birmingham. She congratulated me after the victory and kissed me. It was a memorable moment for me.

How moving is it to see the national flag raised after winning gold in international competitions?

Every time I listen to the national anthem, I feel emotion, especially when looking at the tricolor flag. All the hard work over the years comes to me like a flashback. Before training, every morning, we sing the national anthem. But it’s a completely different feeling when you see the tricolor come back from the medal podium. The gold medal at the World Championships was more emotional for me.

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