Why Akhil Kumar was the best Indian athlete in Beijing 2008

Maybe Akhil Kumar is just a Beijing Olympics boxing quarterfinalist for trivia specialists and a braggart for sports pundits, but for me, he was the best athlete in the Indian contingent. Inspite of his defeat, he had inspired his countrymen. He personifies enthusiasm, dreams and what dreams are made of, humility and the magnanimity to take defeat in good spirits.

Even when we hear a lot many times about Dr. Kalam exhorting Indians to dream, we never quite imbibe the real meaning. But after the bout with world champion Sergey Vodopyanov, when Akhil said “Dreams are not what you see in your sleep, but they are those things that won’t allow you to sleep”, it meant enlightenment. It is the biggest secret of success with no better way to be divulged. Even before the bout, he’d said “I’m not at awe about the world champion; I too want to become a world champion”. He did the unexpected, leaving the world champion in tears.

Akhil actually fought back, finding an opportunity in the face of adversity, keeping himself moving by the hunger to succeed. What else can explain the magical revival from being down 2-6 to 9-9 at the end of the bout. Throughout the match, the hunger to succeed wrought all over his face was hard to ignore and it was undoubtedly the best ever Independence Day gift for me.

Even when the nation was showering him with accolades amongst hopes of the first ever boxing gold, he said “If I can defeat a world champion today, I may lose to a novice tomorrow. It is unpredictable. If I happen to lose midway, don’t forget me”. This explains a champion. Even when the intoxicating smell of success filled his veins, he never allowed it to blur his vision. He accepted the greater truth. Even greater is the fact that he walked his talk. When the hopes of a billion people came crashing down, he went and congratulated his opponent with a wry smile that explained it all. It was at this moment that we decided “This is what you call a hero. This is what heroes are made of”.

Success is not just in attaining what you dream, its learning to face both the impostors called success and failure with equanimity (courtesy: Rudyard Kipling). For a couch potato, Sportspersons are just glamour heroes or divas (courtesy: Yelena Isinabyeva), but for a sportsperson, it’s all sweat, blood, guts and then glory. I understood the pangs of a boxer only when the Asiad gold medalist boxer Dingko Singh’s voice cracked when he recollected that the 10 or 15 years of hard work and struggles are for the 8 minutes in the ring, when all the eyes are transfixed on you, all hopes of a billion people are pinned on you. You get beaten up, you get cuts all over your body, you are drained mentally, emotionally and physically. At the end of the day, you drag on because something fires you up. It’s always the lust, the desire of hearing the Indian national anthem being played at the Olympic final amidst the fluttering tricolor. In that stage, there is no room for mercy or sympathy because; history never gives losers a chance to explain. In that gladiator like struggles, if one is successful, he is hailed as the best ever, but if he loses, he is condemned in the dungeons of forgetfulness and apathy. Indian sports are replete with examples of moths singed by the fire of government policies.

Akhil Kumar is a hero who has demonstrated the power of dreams. He has inspired a generation and at this moment, we can proudly say, that whatever heights we conquer, it’d never have been possible if people like Akhil had not represented India at Beijing. Kudos Akhil, for your attitude, the world is for you to conquer. I know that the Boxing gold in the Bantamweight category in 2012 London Olympics is for Akhil, just because I believe in what Mohammed Iqbal has said:

“ Khud ko kar buland itna
Ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se pooche
Bata teri raza kya hain”

Akhil personifies the real sportsperson. The wry smile which reflected the equanimity with which he accepted the fact that his 15 years of efforts had gone waste in a mere 8 minutes in the bout, will inspire generations to come. With every tear that he might have shed for his motherland, a thousand more Akhils’ will spring up. He is the new icon of Indian sports, all that represents the resurgent and fearless India, the India that doesn’t fail in looking at the enemy in its eyes. He is the hope for the teeming millions starved of an Olympic gold. Its not for nothing that deep inside I can feel the rumbling of my instinct, that this is not an aberration, but a start of a revolution, just a forerunner of greater events that will follow.

[Image source:http://tulsidas.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/akhil-kumar.jpg]