'My dream is Paris 2024' - Young boxing sensation Alfiya Khan Pathan is not holding back any punches
Brutal. Fierce. Merciless. These traits describe Alfiya Khan Pathan perfectly as she prowls inside the ring. During Maharashtra's U16 state championship in 2019, she unleashed a reign of punches which forced the referee to stop the contest within 30 seconds in the pre-quarterfinals, quarter-finals and even in the finals.
What happened in the semi-final? Her opponent gave a walkover even before the match started.
Alfiya's all out attack continues on foreign shores as well. She recently won gold in the 30th Adriatic Pearl tournament in Budva, Montenegro, demolishing Daria Kozorev of Moldova 5-0 in the finals in the 81+ kg category.
Hailing from an orthodox family in Nagpur, her first step into boxing was not easy. In spite of her brother being a boxer, there was stiff resistance from her family when the young girl wanted to fight after getting inspired by her elder sibling.
"I came back from Haj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) in that year. One day I went to watch my brother's match at Mankapur Sports Complex. Then I saw many girls also boxing. But my parents were reluctant to send me to training," reminisced Khan to the Olympic Channel.
Coincidentally, the Priyanka Chopra starred film Mary Kom hit theatres at that time. After watching the film, she became more adamant with her demands.
"I told papa that I want to play. But he did not agree. But after a lot of cajoling, he agreed. However, he said that he would be present during my training sessions. Merey ankho ke shamne khelegi tu. (I will let you play only in front of my eyes). And finally, I started training in Mankapur under Ganesh Purohit."
In her first state championship, she was registered in the U17 category although she was just 13. In spite of that, she won gold with flying colours and backed it with silver at the nationals.
"That infused a lot of confidence in me. After that, I won gold at Khelo India. Phir kabhi peeche mudke nehi dekha. (I had not looked back again)."
After establishing herself in the national scene, the time was ripe for her to make a mark in international tournaments. She went to participate in the Nation Cup in Serbia in 2018. In her first international tournament, she won silver. And yet she was not content.
"I was a bit anxious. But Aman ma'am (Amanpreet Kaur) helped me a lot. She gave me a lot of confidence. Then I played well but I lost in the finals. It was a split judgement of 3-2. Maybe I was short on experience and lacked technique," recounted Alfiya with a tinge of disappointment.
In the next edition, she came back with more determination, but this time she could win only the bronze as she lost to Russian boxer Valeria Vorontsova in the 80+ kg category.
"I was up against a southpaw. That time I used to have difficulty against a southpaw. In India, you don't have many southpaws."
Alfiya knew that if she wants to achieve her dreams this is a major flaw that needs to be eliminated. So she made the most of the lockdown and worked on this weakness.
"I trained with my brother during the lockdown, he is also a southpaw. I have spent my childhood with my brothers. I did not have many friends. My two brothers were my only playmates. So I played every sport with my brothers. Then in the Khelo India camp also, I trained against a southpaw. So that is helping me get better."
During the lockdown, she trained for four hours with her brother. After offering her Namaz (prayer) in the morning, she would sweat it out with her brother. There is no television in her house as her parents think that might hamper her concentration in boxing and studies.
"I came back from Haj and since then, there is no TV. My focus remains completely on training. I studied for maybe 15 days and then passed my CBSE exams. I do watch videos sometimes on my phone. Actually, my life revolves around my family."
The crowning moment of her career arrived in 2019 when she clinched Gold in the Asian Junior Girls Championship. where she defeated Kazakhstan's Diana Magauyayeva with a convincing scoreline of 4-1.
"I had a training tour in Kazakhstan before the tournament. So I had played against her before. I knew her tricks. I was confident that I could win against her," she said.
"I am never overconfident. If you are overconfident, you will fall. It is better to believe. Being mentally strong is more important. You must think that you can win and you are unbeatable. Not being overconfident but having a belief in oneself," Alfiya went on to quickly add.
She feels that there is a lot of scope for improvement before the AIBA Youth Championship, which is slated to take place in Poland from April 10 to 24.
"I am focusing on my strength, power and pace. I will train double before the world championship. There is a lot of scope to improve. I want to improve my techniques. The weight category in which I fight, the technique is very important. Mujhe game dikhana hai aur (I want to fine tune my game even more)."
"The Adriatic win was important before the world championship, to test myself at the international level so that I know where do I stand amongst the youth."
Although her immediate goal is to bag gold in Poland, her ultimate dream is to finish on the podium at Paris 2024.
"Sapna hai Paris ka".
This Nagpur girl dares to dream big.