Pooja Rani training with male sparring partners to get ready for World Championship in December

In her maiden Olympics at Tokyo 2020, the Indian boxer went down in the quarterfinals

By Soham Mukherjee
Picture by Picture by 2021 Pool

You give your best, but sometimes even your best is not good enough. Pooja Rani breezed past Algeria's Ichrak Chaib 5-0 in her debut Olympic bout in Tokyo. However, next up in the quarterfinal was China's Li Qian, to whom she has already lost twice in her career.

In the first round, Rani showed high spirits and launched a scathing attack on her opponents. Yet, Qian on the counter was ruthless and made her punches count.

"I thought I had boxed really well. I was getting my punches at the sweet spots, at least I felt so. But during the time out, my coach told me that I have lost 5-0," the middleweight boxer narrated to Olympics.com.

In the next two rounds, that spring in her step vanished and her defence was unable to block Qian's straight punches and powerful hooks. Rani's maiden Olympic Games had ended one win short of a confirmed medal.

However, the Asian Championship gold medallist went for a break after the Olympics to get over the loss and more so to escape from the sympathy that was being showered on her after she came back to India.

"I went to Rajashthan with my nephews. It was a welcome change. When I was at home people were coming to visit me and they were showing sympathy for my loss in the Olympics. I didn't want any of that. It's not like someone has expired. So I thought it would be best to go on a trip and come back fresh for the next challenges."

Talking of challenges, the next significant international tournament is the upcoming AIBA World Championship in early December in Istanbul, Turkey. The Indian team will be selected for the competition based on the results of the national championship that will be held in Hisar, Haryana from October 21 to 27. Hence, Rani had to win the state championship to make her eligible for a spot in the nationals. This has forced her to cut her post-Olympic break short and return to training.

"I have been training for more than 10 days now. At first, I was just jogging and doing shadows. After a break, when you return you put on weight and you get slow as well. So you have to take it step-by-step. Gradually I am focussing on my speed training. I should also be doing strength training. But it takes time and now I don't have that much time before nationals."

Rani has been training with male sparring partners as she has not found any female boxer in her weight category who could help her prepare properly. Although she has to remain a bit more careful while sparring against male boxers to escape any injury, she feels that the sessions are more productive as the sessions are significantly more intense. 

"It is very difficult to get women sparring partners here (in Bhiwani). So I train with male boxers. They have more power and speed. It's risky but it actually improves you. You better your reflexes and speed," she stated.  

After a brief pause she added, "In my previous appearances in the world championship, I did not do very well. So this time the zeal is more of winning a medal." 

Indeed her performances were not up to the mark in the previous two editions of the World Championship. In 2016, she was ousted in the second round and two years later her graph went further south as she was beaten in her opening bout losing to China's Yang Xiaoli in a unanimous verdict. 

Apart from the World Championship, she has also set her sights on the mega-events of 2022, the Commonwealth Games, and the Asian Games. Moreover, this a three-year Olympic cycle which means there will be less time to qualify for Paris 2024. 

"I will continue to train after coming back from the World Championship. There will be a lot of pressure in this cycle. Within one-and-half years the Olympic qualifiers will start, so you have to start your preparations from now on. The Chinese boxers are also training and they have had just 10 days of break. Everyone is already up and running," she stated. 

Rani knows that her sojourn in Istanbul will be one riddled with challenges. Her previous performances have been unimpressive and she looks to change the record for the better. Moreover, that competition would act as the launchpad for 2022, a year crucial to Indian athletes. She hits the nail on the head before she goes for another gruelling training session," No time to rest."