New Delhi: Two months before the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games, a 16-year-old Indian jabbed, hooked and punched his way to a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Shiva Thapa is now going to be the country's youngest boxer to compete at the Olympics in London.
Thapa himself didn't imagine that things could happen so fast. The Guwahati-born pugilist had set his sights at the Rio Games four years from now and he couldn't believe it when he made it to London by winning the Asian qualifiers two months ago in the 56-kg category. Overnight he is also seen as a potential medal winner.
"I never thought it [Olympics] could come for me so soon. My parents and I were looking at Rio 2016. Now that I have qualified, I am putting everything in my effort to win a medal. Even when I won the silver in Singapore, the ultimate goal was to do well at the Olympics," Thapa told IANS from Dublin, where he is training with six other London-bound boxers and other promising boxers from Ireland, Tunisia and Russia.
"The weather is similar to what it is expected to be in London. The timing of the trip could not have been better as we are practising with some of our potential rivals," said the second Assamese to qualify for London, the other being archer Jayanta Talukdar, and fourth Olympian from the state after footballer Talimeren Ao and shuttler Deepankar Bhattacharjee.
Thapa admits his rise has been rapid since the Youth Olympic Games. As a child, he inherited karate from his instructor father before watching Mike Tyson's bouts glued him to boxing. He learnt the basics of the sport in Guwahati, but his career took off in 2005 when he moved to the Army Institute of Sports, Pune. It was only last year that he was called to attend the senior camp in Patiala.
"The discipline that you need as a sportsperson was something I learnt in Pune. I owe a lot to the Army upbringing during those formative years."
The bronze medallist at the 2009 Junior World Championships still gushes remembering the first time he entered the training hall at the National Institute of Sports.
"It was an incredible feeling. Seeing the likes of Vijender [Singh] practising right in front of me was special. One year there saw me going to the next level. I have learnt to plan my fights. The support of the seniors and coaches has been immense," he said.
Thapa is not overly conscious about his being India's youngest Olympian in London and says he doesn't read much into that fact.
"Age doesn't really make any difference. Boxers younger than me have made a name for themselves around the world. I am no different and I am working as hard as I can for a podium finish."
Ask Thapa about his strengths and he comes up with a quick quip: "I can't really tell you about that as I don't want my opponents to know about it."
On further prodding, he said: "The biggest strength would be my positive approach every time I enter the ring."