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Boisterous welcome for heroes

Special Correspondent

A day of appointments with VIPs

— Photo: V. Sudershan

PRESIDENT’S DELIGHT: President Pratibha Patil flanked by Olympics bronze medal winners Sushil Kumar (left) and Vijender Kumar, when they called on her at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on Tuesday.

NEW DELHI: Bronze medallists Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar were expected to hog all the limelight but instead, it was a medal-less Akhil Kumar who emerged as the true winner if one were to go by the welcome he received at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here late on Monday night.

Chaired by his friends and fans, Akhil was literally swept off his feet and taken out of the arrival lounge unlike the chaotic welcome that Vijender and Sushil received a little earlier. With the drums beating in the background, a heavily garlanded Akhil received cheers all the way as he was pursed by the waiting mediapersons.

A clearly overwhelmed Akhil, who charmed a National audience with his honest statements on way to the quarterfinals and became the new face of Indian boxing in Beijing, maintained his humble ways.

“When I returned, the immigration officer asked me for an autograph. It was for the first time that something of this sort happened. I am delighted and overwhelmed.

Respect and honour

“All the respect and honour we are getting is all because of you. You people have made us heroes. If you continue to encourage us in this way, I am sure this time it is bronze, next it will be gold,” Akhil said to the waiting mediapersons as he thanked the boxing fans.

Armed with banners, The National flag and dancing to drumbeats, Akhil’s supporters were all over the place.

Many of his fans tried to touch him, sought his autographs and put their camera-phones to work.

In the midst of all the din, Akhil said, “now that we have proved ourselves on the big stage, I am sure better days are ahead. With the mounting confidence and reinforced commitment of our boxers, we’ll go even better in the coming competitions.”

Much before this new showman of Indian boxing got his due, a shy Sushil Kumar had to be coaxed by the mediamen to say a few words.

Sushil said, “I am pleased to have won the bronze. I feel, with the support and wishes of all my coaches and others in authority, I will be working hard to bring the gold in the next Olympics.”

When asked how this medal was going to help wrestling, “I think a medal in wrestling is sure to help all lesser followed disciplines.

Fruit of hard work

It took me 14 years of hard work to bring an Olympic medal, but for many other young wrestlers, it should take much less time. Now is the time to get all out and multiply the gains,” he said.

Vijender, who managed to escape the waiting media that had turned up in strength at the IGI airport, revealed on Tuesday that being carried on the shoulders by his fans was “overwhelming” but “we boxers have not been able to catch up on sleep.”

He hoped the euphoria generated by the good showing of Indian boxers did not die down in a hurry.

“If people take to boxing like they’ve done to cricket, you’ll see better results in all international competitions.”

Vijender also said that he was not completely satisfied with the bronze and would look for the gold in London 2012.

During the day, the two met President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani.

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