Sports

Indian Boxer Nikhat Zareen Goes For Gold And Brings It Home

"These two years, I focused on my game only and whatever the weaknesses were there in my game," said the boxer about her prep for the Women's World Boxing Championship

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Nikhat Zareen scripted history by becoming the fifth Indian woman to clinch the coveted gold medal at the Women’s World Boxing Championship in Istanbul. She defeated Thailand’s Jitpong Jutamas to become the world champion in the flyweight category. 

Nikhat started the fight with three crushing blows in the opening minutes, but Jutamas made a great comeback, making use of her long reach. However, Nikhat’s powerful punches and agile movement proved too much for the Thai boxer.

“These two years, I focused on my game only and whatever the weaknesses were there in my game, I tried to improve,” the boxer told reporters after the historic win. “I worked on my strong points and on where I lacked in my game. I worked on the aspects where I needed to work and made myself strong.”

Before Nikhat, Mary Kom, Sarita Devi, Jenny RL, and Lekha KC were the four Indian boxers to achieve this result. She had to wait for her turn, as the legendary boxer Mary Kom too fought in the same segment.

How Did Nikhat Get Into Boxing?

The fact that Nikhat was born into a sport-loving family pushed her to pursue athletics quite early in life. She was trained by her father Mohammad Jameel Ahmed, who always wanted one of his four daughters to make a career in sports. She also won the genetic lottery, as his father used to play both football and cricket, while her uncles too pursued boxing in their youth. 

“I had two daughters before Nikhat. They were always quiet and studious. I didn’t have to worry too much about them. But Nikhat had so much energy as a child. There wasn’t one day that she wasn’t getting into trouble,” Jameel told Sportstars.

She donned boxing gloves for the first time at an age of 13, after being advised by a Shamsamsuddin, who used to run a boxing academy in Nizamabad. Shamsamsuddin felt her agility and grit will take her far in the boxing arena. Six months into her boxing career, she won the state championship and also won the gold medal in Rural Nationals in Punjab.

Nikhat was soon inducted into the Sports Authority of India where she trained under Venkateswara Rao. Her dramatic rise continued, as just a year later, she bagged gold in the World Junior and Youth Championship.

“It is not easy for girls to take to sports, but in her case, it was not a difficult decision. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her cousins, who are international boxers. So this is like a family game for her,” Jameel Ahmed had said after her 2011 victory.

Nikhat vs Mary Kom

The Boxing Federation Of India (BFI) had canceled the boxing trials of the flyweight category for the Olympics qualifiers, thus giving an automatic entry to Mary Kom based on her past accolades. Infuriated with the decision, Nikhat Zareen wrote to BFI for a fair trial. 

“All I want is a fair chance. If I’m not given the opporunity to compete what am I training for. Sports is about FairPlay & I dont want to loose faith in my country. Jai Hind,” wrote Nikhat on Twitter.

“I have been inspired by Mary Kom since I was a teenager. The best way I can do justice to this inspiration was to strive to be as great a boxer as her. And Mary Kom is too big a legend in sport to need to hide from the competition and not actually defend her Olympic qualification”, she said.

Mary Kom eventually won the tie and refused to shake hands with Nikhat. “Who is Nikhat?” asked Mary Kom after the victory.

What’s next for Nikhat Zareen?

Nikhat Zareen has now answered Mary Kom’s question. She is the first Indian woman to win the title after Mary Kom in 2018. Earlier this year, she became the first Indian to win two gold medals at the Strandja Memorial. In the semi-finals, she defeated Buse Naz Cakiroglu, a Toky Olympic silver medallist.

“This one is the more special of the two as I beat an Olympic medallist (Turkey’s Buse Naz Cakiroglu who win silver in the Tokyo Games) in the semifinals. It is a perfect confidence booster when three major events (the world championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games) are lined up,” she added.

While a medal in Olympics remains Nikhat’s ultimate goal, the immediate goal is to win a gold medal in the upcoming Commonwealth Championship 2022.

Featured Image Credit: @BFI

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