He had 13 stitches on his face before he stood in front of his opponent. During the bout, one journalist noticed a bit of blood oozing out of his right eye and falling on his opponent’s shoulder. But by the time Indian boxer Satish Kumar was knocked out of Tokyo Olympics 2020’s pre-quarterfinal by reigning world champion Bakhodir Jalolov, he was already a hero in his home country.
Satish Kumar, a 32-year-old Indian Army veteran and amateur boxer from northern India, became the first Indian to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 in the super heavyweight category. Before his Sunday bout, Kumar had sustained two deep injuries – six above his right eye and seven on his chin – during his pre-quarterfinal bout against Jamaica’s Ricardo Brown. He got the medical clearance just hours before his Sunday bout.
During a Zoom interview from Tokyo, Kumar showed VICE World News the injuries on his face. “I'm doing absolutely fine now. I’ve taken medication,” he said. “Before the bout, my chin was hurting. But I was surrounded by people who supported me so much that I couldn’t opt out of this opportunity of a lifetime.”
On Sunday, August 1, he was ousted by Jalolov from Uzbekistan with a score of 0-5. The Uzbek is ranked number one in the +91kg weight category in the International Boxing Association (Amateur) ranking list.
Despite the defeat, congratulatory posts flooded Indian social media, including one by Jalolov himself. Photos of Kumar’s bruised face are also circulating on social media, as are videos of the famous bout in which he doggedly fought against the relentless Jalolov.
“The way people responded showed me that boxing can be a popular sport in the country, and infrastructure wise, better than what it is now,” he said. “We have such great boxers in our country that coaches from abroad tell us that we’re exceptional fighters.”
At the Tokyo Olympics, news reports stated that there was no official doctor for the Indian contingent because of accreditation issues. It was no reason for Kumar to back out, even if he had never gone into a bout with such injuries before.
“This is the first time,” he said, adding that his wife had told him to play despite his condition. “But I had what you call junoon (passion). Even my father told me, ‘It’s just a little blood, nothing more!’” His kids, too, watched him play. “They’re very happy,” he said.
“I don’t have the words to express what I’m feeling right now,” Kumar said. “I’ve not received this kind of love ever before, not even when I won a medal in 2018 at the Commonwealth Games. I feel blessed.”
Satish Kumar during a training in Italy before heading to Tokyo Olympics.
Boxing wasn’t Kumar’s first sport. Rather, he was a kabaddi or traditional wrestler, and he started boxing while serving in the Indian Army. Today, he is a two-time Asian Games bronze medallist with a silver from the Commonwealth Games, and multiple national-level accolades.
In a cricket-crazed country, athletes from other sports such as boxing often find it difficult to gain access to world-class training and support infrastructure, or even to sustain themselves while pursuing their sport.
This year, India had a strong boxing contingent of nine, including Mary Kom, who has a history of breaking world and Asian boxing records. Kom was knocked out before the quarter-finals. Last week, Lovlina Borgohain, from the 69kg category, entered the semi-finals.
India has so far won two medals in the games: a silver by Mirabai Chanu in 49kg weightlifting, and PV Sandhu in singles badminton. Sandhu became the first Indian woman to have won two Olympic medals.
Despite injuries or any other setback that may come his way, Kumar said he would continue fighting in the ring. “My message to the people is that, do your best in whatever field you are good at,” he said. “If you’re fit, the country will be fit.”
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