There was an unusual sight during the practice session in the boxing hall at the Karnail Singh stadium on Wednesday evening, a day before the Railways women’s boxing team leaves for Guwahati for the nationals.
At a sparring session in the ring, Pooja Rani, the team’s contender in the 75kg category, was trying to get inside the reach of her partner — several weight categories lighter and several inches shorter than her. It is only shorter boxers who try to get inside their opponents reach. It appeared counter-intuitive and a bit awkward for Pooja to crouch, slip around the opponents left jab and then throw the big right.
For the middleweight however it made perfect sense. “In India it doesn’t make that much difference because I am tall for my category. I stay away from the other boxer and then hit from the outside. At the international level however, I am of average height. At the world level I need to get inside and work to the body as well. Otherwise I won’t achieve much,” she says.
This understanding was based on her experiences at the World Championships earlier this year. Having won a silver at the Asian Championships at the start of the year, much had been expected of the 21-year-old at the World Championships, which also served as the Olympic qualifiers.
However Pooja ran into American Claressa Shields who would go on to win Olympic gold. Although Shields was the same height as Pooja her hard hitting inside game overwhelmed the Indian as a 27-11 scoreline would suggest. It was a sobering experience.
An eye opener
“It was a good feeling to go to the World championships because it was the first time I had been in such a big tournament. But more importantly it was an eye opening experience. When you are competing in India you take things lightly because everything is easy. The level of competition at the world level is something completely different,” she says. “Our understanding was that we only had to show up and we would win medals. My preparation simply wasn’t good enough,” she adds.
There was also the matter of inexperience although Pooja doesn’t use it as an excuse. Having been introduced to the game a little under three years ago, she had boxed in a very one dimensional style which was bound to fail against a boxer of the caliber of Shields. “I have learnt a lot since going for the world championships but even if I had the kind of knowledge I had now it wouldn’t have been enough. I need a lot more experience and a lot of improvement if I am to compete at the world stage,” she says.
A test of training
There isn’t much of a chance of quick redemption because the next major competitons — Asian Championships and Commonwealth championships are in 2014. However the Nationals will be a good place to put her new training to the test.
“Once Mary Kom got selected for the Olympics, she began training separately and the national camp came to an end. Since then the only thing on my mind was to do well at the Nationals. The Nationals are the first stage to to preparing for 2014. This technique is risky because if I am not quick enough I will get caught myself,” she says.
The nationals are doubly important because despite her reputation, Pooja has never won one. “This will be my third nationals and I will have to give a really good performance. That will be good preparation for the national camp,” she says.