Singh at the Sahara Indian Sports Awards function
29 October 1985 |
Kaluwas (5 km from Bhiwani), Haryana, India
|Occupation||Boxer Middleweight, policeman.|
|Height||182 cm (6 ft 0 in)|
Vijender Singh Beniwal (Hindi: विजेंदर कुमार सिंह; born October 29, 1985) (also known as Vijender Singh or Vijender Beniwal) is an Indian Olympic boxer from Kaluwas, Bhiwani district in Haryana. He was educated in his village, after which he received a bachelor’s degree from a local college in Bhiwani. He practised boxing at the Bhiwani Boxing Club where coach Jagdish Singh recognised his talent and encouraged him to take to professional boxing. He was coached by the Indian Boxing Coach Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu.
Having won medals in different competitions at the national level, Vijender was picked to train and compete at several international level competitions such as the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games. At the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, he won the bronze medal after losing the semifinal bout against Kazakhstan's Bakhtiyar Artayev. At the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, he defeated Carlos Góngora of Ecuador 9–4 in the quarterfinals which guaranteed him a bronze medal—the first ever Olympic medal for an Indian boxer.
After this win, Vijender was given a number of awards, including the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award—India's highest sporting honour. In 2009, he participated at the World Amateur Boxing Championships where he won the bronze medal. In the same year, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced Vijender as the top-ranked boxer in its annual middleweight category list with 2800 points. The boxer has qualified to represent India at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
1985–2003: Early life and foray into boxing
Vijender was born in a Jat family on October 29, 1985 in Kaluwas village, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Bhiwani, Haryana. His father, Mahipal Singh Beniwal, is a bus driver with the Haryana Roadways, while his mother is a homemaker. His father drove buses overtime so as to pay for Vijender and his elder brother Manoj's education. Vijender did his primary schooling from Kalwas, secondary school from Bhiwani middle from happy sr sec. school bhiwani and finally a Bachelor's degree from Vaish College. In 1990, boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan got the Arjuna Award; as a craze for boxing in India increased. The sport became one of the main job avenues in India. In order to ensure a better life for their poor family, Vijender and his elder brother Manoj decided to learn boxing. Vijender was inspired by his elder brother Manoj, a former boxer himself, to join the sport of boxing. After Manoj succeeded to enter into the Indian Army in 1998 with his boxing credentials, he decided to support Vijender financially so he could continue his boxing training. Vijender's parents decided to not pressurise him to continue his studies, as they felt that he had a talent and passion for boxing. For Vijender, boxing quickly grew from an interest and passion to a career choice.
He practiced at the Bhiwani Boxing Club, where former national-level boxer and coach Jagdish Singh recognised his talent. Working part-time, he even tried his hand at modelling to financially support his coaching. The first recognition for Vijender came when he won a bout in the state level competition. Vijender won a silver medal in his first sub-junior nationals in 1997 and went on to bag his first gold medal at the 2000 Nationals. In 2003, he became the all-India youth boxing champion. After beating a good boxer at that time, he said in an interview that he got confidence and belief in himself as a boxer. The turning point, however, came in the 2003 Afro-Asian Games. Despite being a junior boxer, Vijender took part in the selection trials and was picked for the meet where he fought valiantly to win a silver medal.
His boxing style, hooks and uppercut are compared by the media with style of actor Sylvester Stallone as the character Rocky Balboa in the Rocky film series. Vijender cites him as one his primary influences, along with boxers Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali, and boxing promoter Don King.
2004–07: Athens Olympics and Commonwealth Games
Vijender competed at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, in the welterweight division, but lost to Mustafa Karagollu of Turkey by a score of 20–25. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games, he defeated England's Neil Perkins in the semifinal but lost to South Africa's Bongani Mwelase in the final, thus leaving with a bronze medal. This win led a movement up the competing division. Vijender took part in the middleweight (75 kg) division at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, where he won the bronze medal in a lost semifinal bout against Kazakhstan's Bakhtiyar Artayev with the final score of 24–29. Initially Vijender was not supposed to compete because of a back injury, but he recovered in time to win the tournament and qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Among his preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a period spent early in that year when he trained with German boxers in their own country. This training incorporated a tournament involving boxers from around Europe, in one event of which Singh won gold having beaten a German in the process. At The President's Cup boxing tournament, which is touted as a dress rehearsal for the Olympic games, Vijender defeated Artayev in a quarterfinal bout. Speaking after this, Vijender sounded confident of his physical shape. Talking about his preparation for the Beijing Olympics, Vijender said:
"I did not do well the last time because then I was young and did not have the experience. I have just made it to the senior level and qualified for the Olympics. Now I have the experience. I have won medals at major tournaments like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. Recently, I also beat the 2004 Olympic Games gold medallist [Bakhtiyar] Artayev [in the AIBA President's Cup], so I have done quite well at the international level. So, definitely, everyone can expect a good showing from me in Beijing."
"Now I have quite a lot of experience after competing at the international level regularly. I just want to say that Indian boxers are no longer a weak lot; all are doing well at the international level. Our boxing graph is going up all the time and the rest of the world is now scared to face Indian boxers."
2008–09: The Beijing Olympics and AIBA top rank
After the wins in Germany, Vijender's training for the Olympics continued in Patiala where Indian boxers going to the Olympics held a camp. Vijender was accompanied by boxers Dinesh Kumar, Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar and Antharish Lakra. The Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) sent a videographer to shoot extensively the bouts involving the likely opponents of the five Indian boxers. A team of coaches went through the video footage shot by videographer Sambhu of the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, and studied the technique of the boxers from various countries in detail, so as to prepare Vijender and the others regarding the opponent's manoeuvres and fighting techniques.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics, he defeated Badou Jack of Gambia 13–2 in the round of 32. In the round of 16, he defeated Angkhan Chomphuphuang of Thailand 13–3 to reach the Middleweight Boxing Quarterfinals. He beat southpaw Carlos Góngora of Ecuador 9–4 in the quarterfinals on 20 August 2008 which guaranteed him a medal, the first ever Olympic medal for an Indian boxer. He lost 5–8 to Cuba's Emilio Correa in the semi-finals on 22 August 2008 and shared a bronze medal. Vijender, and Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar—who won a bronze at the men's wrestling competitions—were welcomed grandly to India after their victory.
In July 2009, Vijender accompanied by Sushil and boxer Mary Kom were felicitated with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award—India's highest sporting honour. It was the first time that three sportspeople were picked for the award; the award selection committee decided to felicitate all of them, taking into consideration their performance for the cycle of 2008–09. Kom and Vijender were the first boxers to get the award which carried prize money of Rs 7.5 lakh and a citation. Both Sushil and Vijender were recommended to the Padma Shri awards committee, by the Indian Sports and Home Ministries; however, they were denied the awards after recommendations were not fruitful by the Padma Awards Committee for 2009 winners. The denial of Padma Shri for them created a furore among masses with allegations of promoting only a few sports. Vijender later took up a job with the Haryana Police department which paid him Rs 14,000 per month.
Vijender participated at the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships. He was beaten by Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan in the semi-final of the 75 kg Middleweight category, by 7 points to 3 and was thus awarded the bronze medal. Vijender won the first round of the bout 1–0, only for Atoev to run rampant in the second, landing five unanswered blows. The third round was evenly contested with both fighters scoring on a couple of occasions, but Vijender had already lost the match. In September 2009, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced Vijender as the top-ranked boxer in its annual middle-weight (75 kg) category list. He topped the list with 2800 points.
2010–11: Padma Shri, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games
In January 2010, Vijender was awarded the Padma Shri for outstanding contribution to Indian sports. Later, he participated in the invitational Champions of Champions boxing tournament in China, and won a silver medal, losing 0-6 to Zhang Jin Ting in the 75 kg middleweight final. At the 2010 Commonwealth Boxing Championship held in New Delhi March 18, 2010, he along with five other fellow Indians won gold medal. Vijender defeated England's Frank Buglioni 13–3.
At the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Vijender Singh was beaten by England's Anthony Ogogo in the semi-finals. Leading 3–0 on points going into the final round, Singh was twice given a two point penalty by Canadian referee Michael Summers, the second for coming just 20 seconds before the end of the bout, leading Ogogo to win by 4 points to 3. The Indian Boxing Federation (IBF)launched an unsuccessful appeal, leaving Singh with a bronze medal. IBF Secretary General P K Muralidharan Raja said, "The jury reviewed the bout and came to the conclusion that Vijender was holding his opponent and the referee was right in warning him. When the Indian team pointed out that even Ogogo was holding Vijender, the jury felt it was not the case." Singh lashed out saying that the penalties were "harsh and unfair. The warnings were unfair and harsh. If the referee thought I was holding Ogogo then he should have penalised this guy as well. He was also holding me. It's a joke that somebody has won by scoring points just out of warnings." One month later, in November, he won the 2010 Asian Games shutting out Uzbek two time world champion Abbos Atoev 7:0 in the final.
Although previously denied by him, Hindustan Times reported that the boxer took up a role in the part real part fictional Bollywood thriller tentatively titled One, to be directed by South Indian director Anand. The film was later reveated to be named Patiala Express, which is produced by Percept Limited. Shooting for the film was supposed to begin in early 2011. However, on May 17, 2011, Vijender got married to Archana Singh, a software engineer with an MBA degree, from Delhi. The wedding was solemnised in Delhi in a simple ceremony, and reception was organised at his native place Bhiwani. However, the wedding prompted the filmmakers to drop him from the project, as they felt that Vijender would not enjoy the same popularity among female fans. The film’s launch was widely reported in March 2011, and actor Govinda had confirmed Vijender’s debut with his daughter. Vijender refused to confirm if he has indeed been dropped from the film, saying that “I have to concentrate on my boxing. Wait before you see me in films."
Boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics, he beat Danabek Suzhanov of Kazakhstan 14-10 in the first round of men's middle-weight 75 kg category Boxing event, to advance to the round of 16 of the games. He then edged out American Terrell Gausha 16–15 to win the pre-quarter finals bout. He lost to Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan in quarter final with a score of 13–17. On March 6th, during a raid conducted on an NRI residence near Chandigarh, Punjab Police seized 26 kilograms of heroin and other drugs, valued at 130 crore (US$20 million). They also recovered a car registered in the name of Vijender's wife from outside the home of alleged drug dealer Anoop Singh Kahlon. Later in March, a Punjab Police statement said,"As per investigation conducted so far, Vijender Singh consumed the drug about 12 times and Ram Singh (his sparring partner) about five times."  Singh denied the allegations and refused to give his hair and blood samples for testing. NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) refused to test Vijender claiming protocol did not allow it to test an athlete for that drug when he was out of competition. However, on April 3rd the Sports Ministry of India directed NADA to conduct a test on the boxer since these reports were "disturbing and may have a debilitating influence on other sportspersons in the country".
After his 2008 Olympic win, Vijender emerged into mainstream media prominence in India and became the latest pin-up boy. Apart from boxing, Vijender took part in ramp shows also. However he commented that with partaking modelling, he wished to "bring the game [boxing] in the limelight, make it as popular as possible and catapult it to its deserving place at the top." He has regularly spoken against the bias that Indian media has promoted only cricket as the sole game in India. In an interview with The Kolkata Telegraph, he commented:
Thanks to the media, people have started taking boxing seriously over the past two years. Everyone knows my name now because my achievements have been highlighted. Lekin boxing ka toh kuch promotion hi nahin hota India mein. (But boxing is still not promoted in India!) We don’t have boxing academies, we don’t even have proper boxing rings. I have lost count of the times I have approached the government and the sporting authorities for support, but nothing has happened. [...] In this country, everyone is hung up on cricket. Forget about boxing, India is doing so well in other sports too. Saina Nehwal is a great badminton player, the Indian tennis team has just won a Davis Cup tie, lekin hamare liye support kahan hai? (but where is the support for all of us?)
Before the 2012 London Olympics, Vijender spoke to The Wall Street Journal about the increasing government bias to boost cricket. "I still fail to understand why only cricketers are given perks like free land, and so on. Come on, we boxers aren’t that bad either: We’re smart, intelligent and decent looking too! I’m working really hard to make my country proud. I hope someday my turn comes, too" he clarified. Vijender was approached by Percept Picture Company to act as a guide and counsellor to participants taking part in the Indian version of the boxing reality show The Contender, which follows a group of boxers competing with each other in a single elimination style-competition. He agreed despite being still contractually obligated with Infinity Optimal Solutions (IOS), a celebrity management firm who dealt with his media appearances and ramp walks as a male model. IOS successfully petitioned the Delhi High Court to bar him from entering into any deal with Percept.
Vijender appeared on Bollywood actor Salman Khan's game show 10 Ka Dum. He was accompanied by Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat. Other appearances includes the fourth season of the Indian dance reality show Nach Baliye with actress Bipasha Basu. Vijender is credited by the critics and the media for bringing the sport of boxing back into the limelight in India. His rise to the top rank of the boxing world has been an inspiration for the younger generation and has brought more aspirants and followers, to the sport.
- Boxing at the 2008 Summer Olympics – Middleweight
- Boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics – Men's middleweight
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