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Boxing: 24 years after father quits sport, Vishwanath fulfills dream with gold

India's Vishwanath Suresh celebrates after winning youth men's 48kg gold medal at the 2022 ASBC Asian Youth & Junior Boxing Championships in Amman, Jordan ASBC

"Neither of us said anything at first. Both of us were in tears."

The phone call 17-year-old Vishwanath made to his father Suresh, after winning gold in the 48kg category at the Youth Asian Boxing Championships in Amman, Jordan, contained few words.

"We were crying because whatever I had dreamed of, Vishwanath was achieving. All the ambitions I had, my son was fulfilling," says Suresh. After the call, he returned back to the women's dress suit he was working on in his small tailoring shop in Chennai's Perambur.

Suresh had been a boxer himself - and a talented one at that - winning multiple gold medals at the state level and a silver at the sub junior nationals in 1995. Yet, just three years later, he would walk away from the ring. "I loved boxing. But there was no money in the sport. I was from a very poor family. I was the eldest and had four sisters to marry off. I could either chose to chase the sport or I could take care of my family. I had to put my dreams to one side. That's how I got into tailoring," he says.

Suresh never forgot his first passion, however. When the time came he passed it onto his son too. "When I got into class five, my father started my boxing training. Initially I hated it. Who likes to get punched? But he would tell me stories of great fighters and tell me I could become like them too. And the more I practiced the more I enjoyed boxing too," recalls Vishwanath.

With a full time job and precarious finances to balance, Suresh wasn't always able to train his son the way he wanted. "I would train him whenever I could. I'd always give him some coaching in the morning before work and then in the evening. But because sometimes I'd get tailoring work only in the evening, I'd only be able to train him late into the night," he says.

While Chennai had a few boxing clubs, Suresh knew that his son wouldn't develop as well as he could in a specialized environment. The duo would twice travel to Bangalore for trials at the boys sports company in the MEG (Madras Engineer Group) and be rejected on both occasions due to Vishwanath's small build, which coaches would later say was due to poor nutrition.

"At that point I didn't want to do boxing anymore. I told my father that I was always going to be rejected. But he kept pushing me to make one more attempt," says Vishwanath.

That attempt was selection for the Army Sports Institute in Pune. "I didn't know anything about Pune. The trial was a week long, so I had to shut the shop and take a small loan to pay for our travel and stay in Pune and also to support the rest of the family in Chennai. But it was an easy decision to make," says Suresh.

When they reached Pune, Vishwanath found himself competing with - by his own recollection 1500 other applicants - for a total of 6 places. Fortunately, he wasn't immediately rejected for his height. "They let me box and show them my ability," he says. His technique honed from for the last couple of years by his father, Vishwanath beat multiple opponents, impressed the coaches and was selected to the ASI.

While at the ASI, Vishwanath's grew 21 cm to stand at five feet and two inches now, while adding a lot more muscle. His physical development had finally caught up with his technical skills.

"He boxes with a lot of thought which youngsters his age don't do. He doesn't just look to swing his arms but he's very intelligent. He looks to slip and counter. When he first came he wasn't very strong but now he's as tough as anyone," says Mohammad Arif, a coach at the ASI who also served as a coach of the Indian youth team in Jordan.

Over the years, Vishwanath won gold medals at the junior and youth national championships. Success at the international level followed - a gold at the 2019 Asian Junior championships and a silver at the Asian Youth Championships last year. This year, he came through a difficult bracket, beating boxers from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on the way to the title.

Currently in his last year as a youth athlete - Vishwanath will have to start competing in the senior division from the next season. "There's a huge difference in the strength level of someone who is 18 and someone who is 25. He's improving every day. He's someone we have a lot of hope on," says Arif.

Vishwanath has clarity regarding his path ahead. "My father is always very excited about whatever competition I compete in. Whatever he dreamed of I'm fulfilling slowly. There's one dream that he has left and that's the Olympics. It's always been his dream to hear the national anthem at the Olympics. I'll try my best to fulfill that also. I won't give up until I've achieved that as well," he says.