Day after coach’s death, boxer Dubey wins gold

Boxer Nikhil Dubey was preparing for his fight on Tuesday morning when he was shocked by the news of his coach Dhananjay Tiwari’s accident. Tiwari rode his bicycle from Mumbai to Gandhinagar to watch his student’s 75kg semi-final against Sumit Kundu at the National Games.

Dubey had lost to Kundu in the semi-finals of the senior national championships last year and now it was time for revenge. Tiwari wanted to be in the corner of 22-year-old Dubey on the most important day of his career, but fate had other plans.

Just hours before the fight, Dubey came to realize his worst fears. The accident, which took place near Surat, claimed Tiwari’s life. Dubey had taken many hard blows in the ring, but this one thrown through life stunned him.

“I wanted to run away. I said to my brother who was with me ‘let’s go’. But he said, ‘Look, he wanted you to beat him and win gold here and you have to fight for that in the ring,’ Dubey said.

Dubey spoke to his coach’s wife, who asked him to stay behind and finish his game. Holding back his tears, he defeated Kundu – the pre-quarter finalist of the world championships – for boxing’s biggest shock at the Games. On Wednesday, Dubey won the final against Mizoram’s Malsawmitluanga 5-0 to win the gold medal.

The glitter of gold, however, causes him more pain. Dubey still curses himself for the unfortunate incident.

“Jo mila hai, us se kahin jyada kho ke ja raha hoon yahan se (I’ve lost a lot more than what I’ve gained here),” Dubey said in a trembling voice. “Kash main pehle har jaata to yeh sab nahin hota. Bas yehi soch raha hoon (I wish I had lost sooner and not made it to the semifinals).”

These are the thoughts running through Dubey’s head right now. If he hadn’t set up a match with Kundu, Tiwary, whom he calls ‘bhaiya’, would not have excitedly grabbed his bike to join him.

Dubey says Tiwary, 33, loved bikes and had done many long-distance rides. He was not only a coach for Dubey, but like an older brother. He never charged a fee from him, or from the twenty boxers from underprivileged backgrounds he trained in a gym in Mumbai’s Malad West.

“He always told me that you don’t lack ability. He would fill me with confidence when I lost. Bhaiya would say. “You’re a better boxer. you can beat him.”

It sounded to Dubey’s ears when he took on Kundu, an aggressive boxer. “After losing to him in the semifinals in Bellary last year, bhaiya worked on my game. We had a strategy.”

Dubey did not know how he carried out the plans against Kundu. He felt numb from the power of Kundu’s thrusts. Only a voice from within kept guiding him, ‘keep moving your feet, attack from the left, use your hook.’

“Everything bhaiya told me went into my head. When you take punches in the ring, the brain can’t think. But I’m someone who uses my brain in the middle. Yesterday I just went through the movement. It was a tough fight, but I didn’t get tired. I wasn’t exhausted – I didn’t feel anything.”

Dubey finished it 4-1.

Two years ago, Dubey’s father died during the first wave of the pandemic and now his coach. His older brothers run the household while Dubey, who used to train at the SAI Training Center, Kandivali, makes his boxing dreams come true.

“Bhaiya was my senior and competed at the national level. We trained together and when he became a coach, I have been with him for the last three years.”

After his show, Dubey is looking forward to a call to attend the national camp. But he doesn’t know how to take his boxing further.

“I didn’t want to participate in the final. I wanted to finish it and hurry home. Ajeeb hi hua sab kuch, aab tak vishwas nahi ho raha (What happened was strange and I still can’t believe it).”

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