For boxing enthusiasts, Niharika Gonella is a familiar name. And the tears rolling down her cheeks after the heart-breaking RSC loss against 2017 junior world champion Ankushita Bora of Assam in the last year’s National Games In Gujarat are fresh in everyone’s mind.
On Wednesday, Niharika, representing Goa, began her campaign in the 37th National Games with a 5-0 win over Assam’s Barbi Gogoi in the 60kg women’s category.
Fresh from winning a gold at the recently-held Railways National Championships in Bilaspur, Niharika is confident of doing an encore at the Peddem Sports Complex even though her eyes are pinned on the Paris Olympic quota in 60kg category.
“It’s been an eventful season for me, winning the gold at the Railways championships have boosted my confidence for the 37th National Games here. I started well today, but there is still a long way to go. The main goal is to keep the winning momentum alive as it’s going to be a very busy few months from here on. I can’t afford to let the guard down at any cost,” Niharika said.
Daughter of former handball player Sreeram Gonella, Niharika is the second of the four sisters, and took up the sport in 2014. She has since then won two silver medals at overseas invitational tournaments, and also boasts of medals at Youth Worlds, besides the domestic medals.
However, what makes her a unique case was her frequent change of weight categories, after having started the senior circuit in the 75kg category to now boxing in the 60kg weight division.
“When I started off, my coach had advised me to choose the higher weight categories, because of my height and speed, but gradually I found myself lacking in endurance which is a vital factor in higher weight categories. I won the silver medals in the Youth circuit by boxing in the 70kg division before gradually switching to 66kg last year, where I lost in the first round of the National Games.”
“Since the past two years, I have been working with John Warburton, (Boxing Federation of India) BFI’s sub-junior coach, and going by his advice. He has been instrumental in my progress, and I have found myself in the best shape coming down to the 60kg category. In between, I tried the 63kg division but found my calling in the 60kg, as I have the height and agility to tackle opponents.”
Last year she was representing Telangana but has since shifted base to Goa and is determined to change the outcome.
“Last year, I was in a terrible phase, as I had to leave my father, ailing in the ICU to come to the National Games. I eventually lost my father, when I was about to start my competition, and I couldn’t focus one bit on my competition. You mentioned about the tears, yes it was for my dad last year,” an emotional Niharika recalled.
“But setbacks have made me emerge stronger than before, and I want to make my father proud by winning a gold at the National Games here, and will do all I can to fulfil his dreams of winning an Olympic medal,” she said.