Nikhat Zareen, Nitu beat India gold in Sofia

Indian boxers Nikhat Zareen (52 kg) and Nitu (48 kg) have won gold at the 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia.

Photo: ANI

Indian boxers Nikhat Sareen (52 kg) and nitu (48kg) struck gold on the 73rd Strandja commemorative tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria by clinching thoroughly comprehensive victories in their respective finals on Sunday. Nitu, who competed in the event for the first time, beat Italy’s Erika Prisciandaro, a former World Youth Championship bronze medalist, 5-0. Zareen, on the other hand, struck UkraineTetiana Kob, three-time medalist at European Championships, with 4-1.

While Nitu put on a wonderful counter-performance, taking full advantage of her longer reach and larger physique, Zareen was engaged in a grueling and chaotic match that had its fair share of clinching, holding and even some tipping in the ring. “Both showed completely different styles, but both showed excellent performances. Credit to Nitu for keeping her composure and trusting her counter-attacks against an aggressive opponent,” Bhaskar Bhatt, coach of the women’s national team, told PTI over the phone .

“Nikhat had to fight at close range all the time and she was good at landing clear shots even though her opponent didn’t give her a clear shot,” he said. So India ended the tournament this time with three medals, Nandini (+81kg) was the third podium finisher with bronze.

Hyderabad resident Zareen, who is a multiple national medalist, had also won a gold medal at the 2019 edition of the Strandja Memorial. With another added to her kitten this time, she became the first Indian boxer to win two gold medals at the tournament.

“You can call me the Queen of Strandja. I’m so happy right now,” laughed the 25-year-old, enjoying the snowfall after her triumph. “This one is special of the two as I beat an Olympic medalist (Turkish Buse Naz Cakiroglu, who won silver at the Tokyo Asian Games) in the semifinals in the upcoming Asian Games,” she added.

Nitu is a two-time former World Youth Champion and a former gold medalist at the Asian Youth Championships.

“I just followed my coach’s advice. My plan was to counterattack, although this girl is also a counterattack boxer. And since I was taller and had longer arms, she struggled all the time,” Nitu said. The 21-year-old hails from Haryana’s famous Native American cradle boxing, Bhiwani’s village of Dhanana. The young woman was introduced to boxing by her father, who took three years of unpaid leave from his state government job to help her get coaching in her formative days.

He eventually returned to work in Chandigarh as it began to thrive internationally.

“He works in the Haryana Secretariat and had a big role in shaping it. She’s a very hardworking girl,” Bhatt said. India won two medals in the last edition of the tournament, with Deepak Kumar and Naveen Boora securing silver and bronze respectively.

The performance of the men’s team was underwhelming this time, with none of the seven fighters making it to the medal round. In all, over 450 boxers from 36 countries took part in the tournament, including traditional powerhouses such as Kazakhstan, Italy, Russia, France and Ukraine, where Russia launched a military operation on Thursday despite global calls for restraint.

The Strandja Memorial is one of Europe’s oldest boxing competitions and features top-class boxers from around the world. India’s best performance to date at the prestigious tournament came in 2019 when world silver medalist Amit Panghal, Zareen and Meena Kumari Devi won gold medals for the country alongside one silver and three bronze medals. In 2018, India came back with a higher medal tally – 11 in total – but the gold tally was down on 2019. That year, the country won two gold, three silver and six bronze medals, with the men contributing five of them.

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