Nikhat Zareen will be in the best shape for Paris Olympics after winning bronze in the Asian Games

Source: X (Nikhat Zareen)

It was the Covid 19 virus induced lockdown and the entire country was indoors. Jameel Ahmed, Nikhat Zareen’s father, however, had a completely different worry. Zareen, who was home, was eating home food and with little to do was surfing the internet all day. “She would put on weight and it wasn’t the right thing to do”, said Jameel. “We had to ensure that even during lockdown her focus stayed on the world competitions”, he argued.

The father-daughter duo soon devised their own plans. She would skip in the morning and train in the afternoon on the terrace. And the routine was as rigorous as when she was in the national camp. With Nikhat, the best thing is she hasn’t changed with all this media attention on her. Money and endorsements, which can be huge distractions, hasn’t affected her focus.

Add to it the latest Asian Games bronze in Hangzhou, China. Each who knows her will tell you she was going for gold. A proud champion, she lost a close semi-final by a split decision 2-3 and had to settle for bronze. If anything, it was the push Nikhat needed.

She was winning everything and a loss isn’t always bad. It tells an athlete that she can still get better. Ahead of Paris, this was just what Nikhat needed. That little extra incentive to push herself a little bit more. Be that one percent better prepared. The decisive one percent.

Mary Kom had won a bronze in the 2012 London Olympics and Lovlina Borgohain followed her in the Tokyo Olympics. Nikhat will attempt to do one better in Paris and the Asian Games could well have set her up.


“If you are an elite athlete it is far more difficult to stay at the top than just reaching the pinnacle. You can win a world title but then to stay there and win it again is far more challenging. Your opponents know you are the yardstick. Everyone wants to beat you. And when you add media, money, public attention and events to the challenge, it wasn’t easy”, said Jameel ahead of the World Championship final in Delhi. “All I said to Nikhat is forget everything else. You are here on a mission for India. Focus on the Paris Olympics. That’s when you can rest easy.

Things can go away from you as fast as they come if you let other distractions take over. Having said that I am not one to insist that she wins. All I want is for her to give it everything she has. The results will come”, he said as they were getting ready to leave for yet another training session.

For her mother, Parveen Sultana, it has been harder. “Who will like her daughter to be beaten up”, she asks for a start. “Kisi ko achha lag sakta hai kya”, Jameel said with a smile. “Her mother wouldn’t watch her bouts. Each time she would get hit her mother would get up and walk away. She would feel scared. Things have changed now. She is the first person to sit in front of the television set and watch Nikhat compete these days. And not only that. Each time Nikhat lands a punch she screams ‘maar maar, aur maar’. The change is there for all to see.”

Amidst all this, Nikhat has stayed humble. “Each time she gets a new endorsement she speaks of the struggles she has gone through and the bad days. She remembers every single setback and takes strength from her struggles. She won’t stop. Aap dekh lena”, her former coach at the national team, Bhaskar Bhatt, said about Nikhat.

Speak to Nikhat Zareen and you know that all the above written is real. Not only is she a talented boxer but she knows that all the fame and money is because she is winning in the ring. “There are many other athletes who are working hard to get here. Each of them want to win. So I have to work harder than each one of them. I have to get better. I remember the day when I asked my father why girls don’t take up the sport after seeing a camp in Hyderabad. And I also remember his support. I can’t let my parents down so nothing of what I am getting now is a distraction”, she argues. “Yes things have become easier. I can now train the way I want. With scientific backing, mental conditioning, nutrition, all being looked after, you know that you can focus on your training and that’s the only thing I need to do”, she says.

Nikhat hasn’t forgotten her roots. She hasn’t forgotten the village she comes from. The conservatism in her community that had held her back in her formative years and the struggle to make the national team. Each blow made her more determined, more hardened from inside.

It also sharpened her focus. The failure to make the Rio 2016 Olympic Games meant she would train a few hours more everyday. Losing out from going to Tokyo was instrumental in creating the Nikhat Zareen we now see in front of us. And missing the Asian Games gold could well shape the Nikhar we will see in Paris. Yes, she will meet Salman Khan and do a friendly dance but it all ends there. When she steps into the ring, she is a very different personality. She is the Rocky Balboa of her sport and she knows the country is watching her.

Nikhat Zareen is one of our women athletes of the year nominees for the year 2023.

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