New Delhi: Indian boxers Nikhat Zareen (52 kg) and Nitu (48 kg) took gold at the 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria by taking very comprehensive victories in their respective finals on Sunday.
Nitu won 5-0 against Italy’s Erika Prisciandaro, a former youth world championship bronze medalist. Zareen, on the other hand, defeated Ukraine’s Tetiana Kob, a three-time European Championship medalist, 4-1.
While Nitu delivered a great counter-attack by making the most of her extended reach and taller frame, Zareen was engaged in an exhausting and messy match that involved a great deal of grappling, holding and even falling over in the ring.
“Both showed a completely different style, but both delivered excellent performances. Thanks to Nitu for keeping her composure and confidence in her counterattacks against an aggressive opponent,” Women’s National Team Coach Bhaskar Bhatt told PTI by phone.
“Nikhat had to fight up close all the time and she did a good job landing clear punches even though her opponent didn’t give her a clear shot,” he said.
India thus closed the tournament with three medals this time, with Nandini (+81kg) taking third on the podium with a bronze.
Hyderabad-based Zareen, who is a multiple national medalist, had also won a gold medal at the 2019 edition of Strandja Memorial. With another one to her cat this time, she became the first Indian boxer to claim two gold medals at the tournament.
‘You may call me the Queen of Strandja. I’m just so happy now,” laughed the 25-year-old, enjoying the snowfall after her triumph.
“This one is the more special of the two, as I beat an Olympic medalist in the semi-finals (Turkey Buse Naz Cakiroglu who won silver at the Tokyo Games). It’s a perfect confidence boost when three major events (the World Championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games) are lined up,” she added.
Nitu is a two-time former youth world champion and is also a former gold medalist at the Asian youth championships.
The 21-year-old hails from Haryana’s famous home of Indian boxing, the village of Dhanana in Bhiwani.
The youngster was introduced to boxing through her father, who took three years of unpaid leave from his state government job to help her receive coaching in her early days.
He eventually went back to work in Chandigarh when she started to thrive internationally.
“He works at the Haryana Secretariat and was instrumental in shaping her. She’s a very hardworking girl,” Bhatt said.
India won two medals in the final edition of the tournament, with Deepak Kumar and Naveen Boora securing silver and bronze respectively.
The performance of the men’s squad was disappointing this time, with none of the seven in the fight managing to make it into the medal rounds.
In all, more than 450 boxers from 36 countries took part in the tournament, including traditional powerhouses such as Kazakhstan, Italy, Russia, France and Ukraine, where Russia launched a military operation on Thursday despite a global call for restraint.
The Strandja Memorial is one of Europe’s oldest boxing matches and features high-quality boxers from all over the world.
India’s best-ever performance in the prestigious tournament came in 2019 when Amit Panghal, Zareen and Meena Kumari Devi, the world silver medalist, claimed gold medals for the country alongside one silver and three bronze medals.
In 2018, India came back with a higher number of medals – 11 in total – but the number of golds was lower than in 2019.
That year, the country won two gold, three silver and six bronze medals, with the men contributing five.
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