Sports

Remembering a supernova called Dinko Singh

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Image source: GETTY IMAGES

Photo of Dingko Singh (in blue) at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

From Poonam Mehra

He erupted on stage as an experienced superstar. Not many people fit that description in Indian sports, especially without an Olympic medal, but then Dingko Singh was not for most.

All 42 and four years after losing more than 70 percent of his liver to cancer, Dingko passed away for the last time at his home in Imfal on Thursday, leaving Indian boxing stunned and the many he inspired with a deep sense of emptiness in his life.

His greatest sporting achievement is the gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, the first for India in 16 years. But greater than that was the impact he had on those watching him to hit two Olympic medalists this year.

“Oh my God, he was spectacular. That style was something else,” MC Mary Com recalls as she excitedly lined up to watch him fight on a Manipur show after returning from Asiada.

For her, it was like finding a hero closer to home while chasing her boxing dreams. This was Dinko’s effect on a generation of established northeastern boxing stars, including M Sunranjoy Singh, L Devendro Singh and L Sarita Devi and several others.

“I never knew I had such an impact. I never intended to,” Dingko told PTI in a 2010 interaction.

He was in the capital at the time to watch the British Community Games and enjoyed his anonymity in the audience gallery before PTI caught up with him. He couldn’t be blamed for not knowing his impact blissfully. He never had time to evaluate it.

Dinko was born into a poor family in the village of Imfal’s Sect, and scarce resources forced his parents to leave him in a local orphanage.

It was there that Scouts from the Special Zone Game Scheme (SAG), launched by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), first noticed the raw boxing talent in him.

He was definitely talented, add to this mix a famous living person and all this was added to become a fearless participant in the ring and a scary person to deal with outside of it.

“He can’t be controlled by anyone. He can’t be subdued by anyone,” recalls Achilles Kumar, a British community gold medalist who was with him in the national camps.

Indian boxing first noticed Dinko’s talent with the 1989 national team in Ambala, where he became champion as a 10-year-old.

From there began the journey of his world-class development in the light heavyweight division, one that seemed ready to explode in the biggest stages, against the toughest opponents.

“Those abandoned hooks, this aggression, he was so inspiring. I saw him focused during the national championship. What a personality he had. I know how fierce he was because I also took a few of his blows during national camps,” Achilles said.

This ferocity of the blows also reflected Dinko’s personality. He allegedly threatened to commit suicide after it appeared in the newspapers that he had dropped out of Asiad in 1998.

He was eventually named to the team and proved his worth with gold, later awarded the Arjuna and Padma Sri Prize for this career-defining moment.

“He can be dramatic, but you can’t fight with that kind of talent,” said Gurbacks Singh Sandhu, Bangkok’s Assad national coach.

Dinko is said to have been drunk during this break-up before Assiada, and alcohol has been shown to destroy him after the games, which ultimately causes many of the health problems he struggles with.

Early exit from the 2000 Olympics and the British Community Games in 2002 left Dinko’s career at a crossroads. He soon closed his gloves and went to train at the center of Imphal’s Sports Authority of India.

He was removed from the job in 2014 after allegedly beating a female weightlifter at the facility because he simply professed his affection for him.

There were countless other tales of Dinko losing his composure while at the height of his power.

He once tried his kit right in front of the federation’s staff after his complaints that it was inappropriate were rejected by them. Dinko, in his inimitable style, made sure the staff knew firsthand how inappropriate the size had been handed to him. Eventually, they had to change his kit.

“He never deliberately tried to warm up anyone for personal gain, be it coaches, the federation, employees, anyone. He had such confidence in his talent. That’s why he was a hero,” Achilles said.

But Dinko didn’t know the effect either.

“I’ve softened, I’m not having any problems,” he had said later after tying the knot with Babay Ngongam.

But Dingko did face problems, perhaps the biggest in his life, in 2017, when he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

“My struggle comes naturally, I will fight it too,” he would say.

However, every battle has a price. His treatment affected his limited resources and there was a time when he had to turn for help, which really came to him for several quarters. His misery was complicated by jaundice and COVID-19 last June, which required a month of hospitalization, and he was overcome by a “sense of relief” on his return home, calling it the worst one month in a long, long time. .

“It’s a miracle how he fought all these diseases. No other person would have survived that long. It shows what it’s made of,” said Mary Com.

The man himself did not seem to know the scale of his health challenges.

In fact, in his numerous interactions with PTI, he illuminates them.

“Main job, ji ji, ghabraiye nahi kuch nahi hota mujhe (I’m fine, don’t worry, nothing will happen to me),” was his oft-repeated response to the call of how you are.

He fought hard and was determined to beat the odds just like those Olympic medalists he smashed in a career comparable to a supernova explosion.

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