Strandja Memorial Boxing: Nikhat Zareen and Nitu Win Gold Medals for India

Indian boxer Nikhat Zareern may have missed the bus to the Tokyo Olympics but she’s making the most of the opportunities this year. The 25-year-old won a gold medal in the 52 kg category at the 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria on Sunday.

Nikhat Zareern, who defeated Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Buse Naz Cakiroglu in the semifinals, beat Ukraine’s Tetiana Kob, a three-time European Championships medalist, 4-1 in the final to win the gold medal.

Meanwhile, Nitu (48kg) beat Italy’s Erika Prisciandaro, a former World Youth Championship bronze medalist, 5-0.

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,” women’s national team coach Bhaskar Bhatt told Press Trust of India.

“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.

NIKHAT ZAREEN WRITTEN HISTORY

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,” Zareen told the news outlet.

“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.

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.

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