'Magnificent Mary', bunch of debutants in spotlight
Ulan Ude (Russia): Six-time champion MC Mary Kom's seemingly endless reservoir of experience makes her a strong medal contender yet again but the spotlight will also be on some youngsters when India takes guard at the World Women's Boxing Championship starting here on Thursday.
Mary Kom was on Wednesday seeded third and handed a bye into the pre-quarterfinals. She will begin her campaign on October 8 against a yet to be decided opponent.
In all, five Indians got first-round byes into different stages depending on the size of the draw. No Indian will be in action on the opening day of the mega-event.
The 36-year-old Manipuri has been an ambassador of the sport not just in India but also the world over. However, there is a minor blemish in her magnificent record -- the lack of a world title in the 51kg category.
She would be aiming to set it right in this Russian city. This is not to say she hasn't done well in the hard-fought category-- Mary Kom has the Olympic bronze medal and the Asian Games gold to her credit in the division.
Former champion and Mary Kom's contemporary L Sarita Devi (60kg) is another one to watch out for after she defeated last edition's bronze-winner and a much younger Simranjit Kaur in the trials. Sarita, seeded fourth, has also got a bye but into the round of 32.
Outside the ring, the eight-time Asian medallist is in the running to become a member of the International Boxing Association's (AIBA) first ever athletes commission, the voting for which will take place during the mega-event here. She is expected to make the panel as there hasn't been any other nomination from the Asian bloc.
Previous edition's bronze-medallist Lovlina Borgohain has moved up a division to 69kg this time. Borgohain, an India Open gold-medallist, has been seeded third and given a bye into the pre-quarterfinals.
India Open gold-medallists Neeraj (57kg) and Jamuna Boro (54kg) are among the five boxers, who will be making their debuts at the big event and can be expected to create a flutter. Neeraj, a former national champion, has got a bye into the round of 32.
In the 75kg category, former Asian champion Saweety Boora will be keenly watched. She was a silver-medallist in the 2014 edition of the marquee tournament. "This squad is a nice mix. Last time we had four medals, let's see how the debutants respond to the challenge this time. Fingers crossed," national coach Mohammed Ali Qamar said.
"Before coming here, we had a fruitful training stint in Italy where we got to spar with the Chinese, which is not something that happens quite often. They hardly travel elsewhere and they are the biggest force in women's boxing," he added.
In the 48kg category, which Mary Kom made her own, Strandja Cup silver-medallist Manju Rani will be fighting it out this time.
A debutant at the world championship, Rani got a bye into the pre-quarterfinals. "She has shown a lot of promise and hopefully, it would translate into a medal here," Qamar said.
Among the veterans, former Asian medallist Kavita Chahal (+81kg) is in the quarterfinals due to the small size of the draw and will need just one win to be assured of a podium finish at the big event, where she has won two bronze medals in the past.
India's best performance at the tournament was back in 2006 when the country, hosting the event, topped the medals tally with a haul of eight, including gold medals by Mary Kom and Sarita.
The Squad: Manju Rani (48kg), M C Mary Kom (51kg), Jamuna Boro (54kg), Neeraj (57kg), Sarita Devi (60kg), Manju Bomboriya (64kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69kg), Saweety Boora (75kg), Nandini (81kg), Kavita Chahal (+81kg).