If you had thought that boxers are all about rippling muscles and visible aggression, thanks to channels like WWE, meeting Arjuna Award Winner Shiva Thapa would turn such assumptions on their head. Dressed in a faded pair of jeans and causal t-shirt, he looks like the quintessential boy-next-door. His gentle demeanor and shy smile only cements that impression. As we settle down for a quick interview, I already feel like I have known him for a while. He has that knack of making you comfortable.
Packing a Punch
The world No 6 in bantamweight category is set for his second successive Olympic appearance after making his debut back in 2012 as an 18-year-old. When I ask him how a seemingly gentle soul like him battered his opponent like he did in the Olympic qualifiers, he replies, ‘Inside the ring, I am a completely different person. All I can think of is my opponent. I look him in the eye and tell him, I am going to beat you. That sort of aggression is important. There are ups and downs in a fight, so the mental fight is as important as the physical one. Frankly, once an opponent punches you in the face, you forget all your techniques. I forget I have to counterpoint him. From then on, it’s all about willpower and who holds on longer’. Yeraliev from Kazakhstan and Shiva are both counterpunchers. But to Shiva’s credit, he picked up a comprehensive 3-0 win in Quianán, China.
Not Roses All the Way
Shiva’s Olympic journey though hasn’t been a smooth one. Like any boxer from Northeast India without institutional support, he had to fall back on his family for financial and moral support, more specifically his father who runs a small shop in front of their Birubari home. ‘It was my papa’s dream to be a boxer, honestly he used to look just like Bruce Lee,’ says Shiva on a lighter note as we crackle up. ‘I only became serious in 2005 when I became the national champion. All travelling costs were born by my father, now I am surprised how he did it all. He never told me what he went through, but quietly provided for my equipments and specialized diet,’ he continues.
‘I had started playing taekwondo and karate when I was around 7 years old for two to three years. But because it was not an Olympic sport, my dad and I decided to switch to boxing. By then I wanted to be a boxer by watching boxing matches on TV. Mike Tyson, the then reigning world champion, was a big influence. My dad was also a coach and trainer for some boys in a club, I spoke to him and he took me to a training camp in Paltan Bazar. I started boxing in 2003,’ reminisces Shiva.
Like Father, Like Son
His father Padam Thapa clearly is the strongest influence in Shiva’s life, the one who dreamed impossible dreams for him, which the son willingly fulfilled. Shiva shares an incident from his childhood that made a deep impact on him, ‘My father was driving me and my brother on his favoured bullet to our training centre. We were both upset as we had lost earlier in the day and ended up fighting. While Papa tried to talk some sense into us, his eyes missed a dog that was right ahead and the three of us tripped. I and my brother had badly scraped knees and hurt elbows but I will always remember how he got us all together and continued to drive. That day, he gave us a real-life lesson on willpower. Till this day, he is my pillar of strength, if he is motivated, I am motivated. If he is low, I feel low.’
Shiva trains thrice daily: from 6.30 am to 8.30 am, 11 to 12.30 pm and 3.30 to 6.30 in the evening. Sometimes, he is able to reduce around 2 to 3 kilos in one training session itself; such is the intensity of a typical training session. ‘We burn calories like anything and just to maintain our weight, we cannot consume too many calories. It’s pretty hard to recover also but then again to start the next session without recovery is very difficult to maintain. I am used to it now’, he explains. ‘Do you injure yourself when you practice?’ I ask, as I spy a stitch on his forehead. ‘Yes, I got five stitches when I hurt myself in a recent session at Patiala, I had a head butt as practice boxing is without head gear’, he replies. ‘I like risks though,’ he adds.
So, does he lead a charmed life now, thanks to his celebrity status as a boxer and an Arjuna Award Winner? Shiva assures me that he had always had the crowd behind him. Even in 2007, when he participated in his first international championship at Ajerbaijan in Russia as a sub-junior, he could hear the crowd rooting for him. Shiva bagged his first gold medal then. There was also a huge crowd at the Indira Gandhi International airport to see him. For the first time, he was mobbed. ‘I saw a lot of people cheering for me. I am a great believer in God; I knew he was blessing me and giving me opportunities to stay motivated,’ says Shiva.
Arjuna Award Winner
When I ask him how difficult it is to stay motivated, his reply is a simple one, ‘When you really want something badly in life, motivation somehow comes from somewhere. In 2010, at the Youth Olympics in Singapore, when I won the silver medal and lost in the finals, that was a turning point. Experience is not only about winning, it’s also about losing. I learnt how to face a huge crowd. The experience still gives me Goosebumps’. In 2012, two years later, Shiva Thapa turned 18, and was eligible to compete for the real thing. Not only did he qualify in his maiden attempt, he became the youngest Indian boxer to play for India at the 2012 Olympics. Shiva Thapa is ranked 3rd in the bantamweight category in the AIBA Men’s World Ranking. He is the third Indian to clinch Gold at the Asian Games and was one of India’s strongest bets at the Rio Olympics. He recently won the Arjuna Award.