As boxing gains popularity among Bhutanese youth, a retired soldier from Lhuentse recalls how he earned the country’s only gold medal in boxing without any professional coaching, equipment, and diet.
Tshering Dhendup, 67, from Lhuentse, won the gold medal in 1984 in an international boxing championship held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Records maintained by the Bhutan Boxing Federation showed that Bhutanese won 54 medals in boxing in international championships, but so far it has only been Tshering Dhendup who brought home a gold medal.
“My interest and hard work helped me win the medals,” Tshering Dhendup said.
Before the gold medal, he also won a bronze medal in the 71kg weight category in the boxing championship in Nepal in the same year. Another soldier, Tandin from Paro, also won bronze there.
In the 1985 boxing championship in Bangladesh and the 1986 SAARC championship in India, Tshering Dhendup won bronze medals in the same weight category.
Tshering Dhendup served in the army for 30 years until his retirement in 2002.
He said he became a soldier aged 16 in 1972.
He said boxing began in Bhutan towards the end of 1973 with an Indian coach. “Boxing was then played only among army personnel. I had no idea about boxing until 1976.”
According to Tshering Dhendup, the first boxing match in Bhutan was held at Changlimithang in 1975 to celebrate the coronation of His Majesty The Fourth King.
“Boxers were trained at Lungtenphu. On the day of the match, we made a simple ring at Changlimithang and played the game,” he said. “Those involved in the boxing match did not have to attend their regular duties unless there was an emergency requirement.”
He said that Bhutan hosted its first international boxing tournament in Thimphu in 1978. It was against the Indian Army team. “Eleven boxers each from both the teams were involved in the 48-80 kg weight category.”
Tshering Dhendup said three Bhutanese soldiers played well in the tournament. “I knocked out my opponents twice in the first rounds. It was one of my best performances.”
He said the only boxing ring in the country at that time was at the Lungtenphu army camp. “During our time, active, capable, and robust soldiers were selected for boxing by the officials.”
Tshering Dhendup participated in his last boxing competition representing Shaba wing in 1988 and won the championship cup.
“Through this game, I had the opportunity to meet boxing legend Muhammad Ali,” he said, showing his photo with Muhammad Ali in Pakistan. “Muhammad Ali was the chief guest of the SAARC Games in Pakistan in the 1980s. “Dr Sonam from the national referral hospital made an appointment with Muhammad Ali’s official for a photo session.”
Tshering’s boxing capability is known amongst young boxers.
On August 29 this year, Druk Thimphu Boxing Club awarded a certificate to him as the first boxing gold medalist of the country.
Tshering also said that his boxing career helped him to get a promotion in the army, besides living a healthy lifestyle.
“Today the quality of facilities and coaches has improved a lot and youth have good opportunities in boxing,” he said. “The youth have potential. To further improve boxing, the accommodation, diet, and mental wellbeing of the boxers are important.”
He also said boxers must be bold and disciplined.