‘You give us exposure, we’ll give you medals’‘You give us exposure, we’ll give you medals’ | Sunday Observer

‘You give us exposure, we’ll give you medals’‘You give us exposure, we’ll give you medals’

5 June, 2021
Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossynov parries a left jab from Lasindu Eranda
Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossynov parries a left jab from Lasindu Eranda

Sri Lanka boxers cry out to their guardians they’ll fight for their country if only they can get what they should:

Sri Lanka’s pugilists proved they had the potential to win medals at the international level as they displayed courage and technique against tough opponents at the ASBC Asian Elite Men and Women Boxing Championship held in Dubai, UAE.

The seven-member team comprising four men and three women fought their hearts out against Asian powerhouses from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan who dominated the competition.

Sri Lanka’s best woman boxer at the National championships during the last two years Nadeeka Ranasinghe returned home with a bronze medal after a tough semi final defeat against two-time world champion Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan who underlined their dominance of winning eight gold medals in the women’s division. Kyzaibay went on to win the title defeating India’s iconic six-time world champion Mary Kom in the flyweight (51kg) final.

This is the seventh bronze medal for Sri Lanka at the Asia Women Boxing Championships which was inaugurated in 2001, with Shiromalie Weeraratne being the last to win a medal at the 2012 Asian Championship held in Mongolia fighting in the light welterweight.

Ranasinghe benefited from the luck of the draw but was overwhelmed by the power-packed blows of her rival who stunned the pencil-slim Lankan forcing a first-round stoppage. “I didn’t expect it to end this way. I had trained hard for more than a year for this meet. I am not going to give up on what I had set out to achieve,” said the 30-year-old Ranasinghe, a bronze medallist at the 2019 South Asian Games (SAG) whose ambition is to represent Sri Lanka at the Olympics.

It is not a pipe dream but portrays the determination of Sri Lanka’s boxers hungry to achieve glory despite being starved of international competition and facing severe limitations while training in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Sri Lanka boxing was stopped and there were no competitions. There are no proper sparring partners for training because of restrictions. We had to manage it carefully because of corona,” said Vidyarathne SC coach Amila Aravinda who trains Ranasinghe, Keshani Hansika and Lasindu Eranda at Horana.

He recalled the fact that this was Ranasinghe’s second international meet and was fighting in a weight class featuring two world champions.

Indeed, much cannot be read into the performance of Sri Lanka’s pugilists at this Asian competition especially since it was their first international event after the SAG in December 2019. SAG gold medallist Rumesh Sandakelum (81kg), silver medallists Dinesh Maduranga (75kg) and Krishmi Dharmathilaka (57kg) took part in the Asian and Oceania boxing qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics in Amman, Jordan before the covid outbreak but they don’t seem to feature in the future plans of the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL). But it revealed some stark home truths for the BASL to ponder as they target medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“We have to give these guys more international exposure. We have to send them for smaller regional meets. When we go straight into the Asian championship or Asian Games or World Championship, those are of high level. Our guys are tapping at the doors even to those levels,” said a leading boxing official. “We have to get them to touch that piece of metal. The feeling has to come ‘I have won a silver or bronze medal for my country’,” he said.

Sri Lanka won bronze medals at the President’s Cup in Indonesia and King’s Cup in Thailand in 2019.

There is a tendency for Sri Lankans to blame officials when results go the other way in closely contested international bouts but the reality is different.

“They are throwing hard punches but punches are not connecting. Kazaks, Uzbeks, they just don’t throw punches for the sake of throwing. If they throw a punch they make sure it’s connected. We need international coaches who are able to develop them to the next level,” said the official.

“You can’t waste punches. I feel our guys are good. They are tapping on the doors. There is enough potential. They can bring medals,” he added.

BASL’s plans to bring down a Cuban men’s coach and a South Korean women’s trainer were stalled because of the spike in coronavirus cases.

The lack of competition at home for top women pugilists is a major drawback. Ranasinghe has not thrown a blow in anger since the 2019 SAG, even winning the selection trial without a contest. It is the same with Sri Lanka’s leading women boxer Keshani Hansika who is unbeaten at home.

Hansika, who celebrated her 30th birthday in Dubai, gave a good account of herself but was outpointed by 19-year-old Sitora Turdibekova of Uzbekistan, a bronze medallist at the World Youth Boxing Championships. She appeared to control the bout displaying good ring craft and unleashing combinations but lacked the killer instinct.

Rasmika Illangaratha, was outclassed in the light fly weight (48kg) quarter-finals to Uzbekistan silver medallist Gulasal Sultonalieva. Kazakhstan led the women’s medal tally in the championships by winning eight gold medals while Uzbekistan and India won one gold each.

“Even Hansika needs to be fine-tuned. All have been there in international tournaments before. The experience of going for the World or Asian championship is not going to work. We have to get them that exposure in smaller meets and give them the hunger of winning medals. Having close bouts won’t do. Now it has to go beyond that. Coming back with a piece of metal back to your country is what is required,” said the boxing pundit.

Former national coach Capt. R.K. Indrasena felt tough girls from Jaffna should be trained for boxing and to pursue with Police boxer Purnima Jayasuriya who won a silver medal at the Eindhoven Box Cup in the Netherlands.

BASL president Dian Gomes affirmed the view of many observers that Eranda and Sajeewa Nuwan were impressive although they barely got an opportunity to train in the national pool.

SAG silver medalist Eranda fought aggressively against Saken Bibossynov of Kazakhstan, the bronze medallist of AIBA World Boxing Championships. The Kazak boxer won this bout by the narrowest of margins and went on to win the bronze medal in the flyweight (52kg) category. “He attacked and had the determination to win, especially leading the last round. But his opponent defended and scored with counters,” opined Indrasena.

Best Boxer at last year’s Nationals, Sajeewa Nuwan gave a composed performance in the light fly weight (49kg) contest against Mongolia’s Unubold Orkhontungalag who went on to win the silver medal. A technically sound but laidback fighter he appeared to have done enough but trifle unlucky not to get the nod of the judges. Rukmal Prasanna had a close combat with a young but very experienced Junmilardo Ogayre of the Philippines who won the bronze medal in the bantam weight (56kg) category. Wimukthi Kumara lost to Jere Samuel De La Cruz of the Philippines in the lightweight (60kg) bout.

In the men’s division, Uzbekistan grabbed six gold medals while Mongolia clinched three golds and India one. A total of 150 boxers including 47 women from 17 countries took part in the tournament.