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Ibomcha and his little box of stars
If Indian sport ever had a sensei - a wise, venerable teacher who taught his wards the ways of life, in addition to basic principles of a martial art, it would be L Ibomcha Singh. Strong, silent and eyes not missing a thing, Manipur's legendary boxing coach is a rare breed of coaches in modern sport, who are happiest simply churning out champions by the score. Each morning, a noisy throng of youngsters jostle for elbow room as Ibomcha conducts his class.
Like all masters, there is an ageless quality about him. You can't put a number to it. His eyes say a hundred, but the strong, heavyset frame - which once earned the 67-kg boxer the sobriquet of 'Bulldozer' - says half that number.
Manipur boxing and Ibomcha go back a long way. He was the first boxer to win the state a National medal in boxing when he won the bronze in the 1981 National Games. In 2010, he was awarded the Dronacharya award for his services to boxing.
Arguably more students have passed under the Manipuri's watchful eyes than any other coach across the state, perhaps even the country. Consider the numbers. Having begun his coaching career in 1980 - while he was still active as a boxer the self-effacing Ibomcha claims to have tutored over 3, 000 boxers in his time. His stint as a Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach a decade later, has alone produced 1, 000 boxers. Forty two of these have been internationals. The list reads like a who's who of modern Indian boxing - Dingko Singh, MC Marykom, Sarita Devi, Suresh Singh, Santosh Singh, Suronjoy and the upcoming P Narjith.
Ask him who was his favourite, and he simply says, "All of Bhiwani's boxers still follow Dingko's technique. " After a little thought, he says, "Before Dingko, there was ZV Jollyson. He was a Thangkul Naga. He fought in the King's Cup in Thailand too (where Dingko won the title in 1997). He was very good. And very handsome too. "
A brief stint with the National set-up in 1990 was short-lived, when he quit facing allegations of favouritism. "I was accused of calling Manipur boxers to my room for extra tips after training. The charge was totally uncalled for. So, I quit, " he says simply.
Ibomcha's influence as coach can be gauged by the fact that medal hopeful Suronjoy would regularly call him from Guangzhou, despite the presence of the proven Gurbax Singh Sandhu and Cuban BI Fernandes at the Games.
But Ibomcha is not about boxing alone. The most evident example of overarching impact on Manipur sport is the ambitious, much-busy Special Area Games programme (since 1987-88 ) under SAI, Manipur. Under his guidance since April last year, 249 children scouted from under the National Talent Scouting Scheme train each day in 10 specific disciplines - boxing, judo, weightlifting, wrestling, fencing, gymnastics, karate, shooting, swimming/diving and wushu. The standards set are stringent. The kids are put up for three years in the SAI hostels, and their performance and all-round conduct is closely monitored. The drop-out rate is high, an indication of the high standards. On an average, 50 to 60 kids drop out in the 10 disciplines. Those who pass Ibomcha's test are more than ready for the world. If ever there was an assembly line in India, it is here, under Ibomcha Singh's benign, watchful eye.
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