Hardened by difficult circumstances in his personal life, young boxer Akash Kumar (54kg) secured India’s first medal at the ongoing AIBA Men’s World Championships here on Tuesday by advancing to the semifinals with a superb win over former Olympic silver-medallist Yoel Finol Rivas of Venezuela.The 21-year-old Akash, who is a reigning national champion, prevailed 5-0 with a fabulous performance which was a perfect mix of powerful punching and great showmanship. The fearless youngster scored on counter-attacks with a non-existent guard and taunted his opponent, all this while staying out of his range with terrific pace and footwork. Even a cut above his right eye could not slow him down or force him to raise his guard.
“My strategy was to attack from word go, I took the first round with that and in the second, I had to protect my cut as well, while going forward, which I managed to do,” Akash said after the triumph.A product of the Army Sports Institute in Pune, the Services boxer lost his mother to a lung infection in September and competed in the national championships unaware of the tragedy.
The world championships is his maiden senior international tournament, which makes the performance so far all the more special.
His father died more than a decade back after initiating him to boxing and his brother is in jail since 2017 in connection with a murder case.
But determined not to be defined by his difficult circumstances, Akash became only the seventh Indian male boxer to secure a world championship medal and is now also assured of a prize money of at least USD 25,000.
“I dedicate this medal to my late mother and father and my coaches. I competed in such a big tournament for the first time in my life and I feel so proud to have done well,” Akash said.
“His performance has earned him a lot of respect from his opponents. For a debutant, he showed tremendous confidence against boxers who were far more experienced,” added India”s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva while talking to PTI.
Rivas had originally won a bronze in the Rio 2016 Olympics but his medal was upgraded to silver after the original second place finisher failed a dope test.
Akash will be up against 19-year-old Makhmud Sabyrkhan of Kazakhstan, a three-time Asian gold-medallist at the youth level.
Later this evening, five-time Asian medallist Shiva Thapa (63.5kg) will square off against Turkey”s Kerem Oezmen in the quarterfinals along with three other Indians.
Thapa would be aiming to become the first Indian male boxer to claim two medals at the world event, having fetched a bronze in the 2015 edition.
Narender Berwal (+92kg) will go up against Azerbaijan”s Mahammad Abdullayev, while Nishant Dev (71kg) will take on Russia”s Vadim Musaev.
Reigning Asian champion Sanjeet (92kg), who was a quarterfinalist in the event”s last edition, will face Italian Aziz Abbes Mouhiidine.
India’s previous medal winners at the world championships are Vijender Singh (Bronze, 2009), Vikas Krishan (Bronze, 2011), Thapa (Bronze, 2015), Gaurav Bidhuri (Bronze, 2017), Amit Panghal (Silver, 2019) and Manish Kaushik (Bronze, 2019).
The gold winners at the showpiece will walk away with a prize money of USD 100,000.The silver medallists are to be given USD 50,000, and both bronze-medallists will be awarded USD 25,000 each. The total prize purse stands at a whopping USD 2.6 million.
India are being represented by its reigning national champions across weight categories.
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