The last five months have been a battle for Nikhat Zareen; not in the ring, but outside it, trying to ensure that she finds her rightful place in the selection trials for the first Olympic qualifier in February. On the 27th and 28th of December, Zareen will need to focus all her energy inside the ring where MC Mary Kom would not spare an inch to her young challengers in her quest to compete in another Olympics.

For Zareen, the rising star in the 51kg category, to face off against Kom, both boxers will have to first see off their first round opponents on Friday.

Zareen will take on Jyoti Gulia, the 2017 world youth champion and current national champion. 19-year-old Gulia beat Ritu Grewal in the final of the national championships, and Grewal will be top seed Kom’s opponent.

All five categories in the two-day women’s selection trials, to be held at the IG Stadium here, features four contenders each.

If both Kom and Zareen win their first-round bouts, the much-anticipated showdown will happen on Saturday. The winner will be able to compete at the Tokyo Olympics qualifier in Wuhan from Feb 3-14.

The trials will be conducted by two-star AIBA judges and a referee from India, and will be recorded on camera. There will be no review of the bouts. Zareen and Kom faced each other in Guwahati in the semi-finals of the India Open where the six-time world champion won a close bout.

“I have watched the video of that bout again and again and I have learnt from my mistakes. I am prepared this time,” Zareen had said during the Big Bout League, where she was scheduled to face Kom twice, before the latter pulled out due to back pain.

Zareen, 23, has had a breakthrough year, winning medals at key tournaments, including a bronze at the Asian Championships in April. Mary Kom switched her weight class from 48kg to 51kg to be able to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, and won a bronze in the category at the 2019 World Championships in October in Russia. Kom had been picked for the tournament without a trial, prompting Zareen to protest.

Besides 51kg, there will be stiff competition in 57 kg, which features a mouthwatering line-up: Sonia Chahal, the 2018 World Championships silver medallist; Manisha Moun, the 2019 Asian Championships bronze medallist; youth world champion Sakshi and 2016 World Championships silver medallist Sonia Lather.

In 60kg, the seasoned L Sarita Devi will be in action, while World Championships bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain should have it easy in 69kg. Pooja Rani, the only woman to win gold at the Asian Championships this year, is likely to face a tough challenge from veteran Saweety Boora in 75kg.

Sangwan Banned

Olympian Sumit Sangwan, who was named in the men’s selection trials in 81kg subject to clearance of NADA’s Anti Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP), has been banned for a year.

Sumit had tested positive for the presence of Acetazolamide substance under the category of diuretics and masking agents.

“Today, the ADDP has rendered him ineligible for a period of 1 year under Article 10.5.1. In the absence of any provisional suspension, his suspension ordered by the panel shall commence from today i.e. 26th December, 2019,” NADA said.

The men’s selection trials will be held on Dec 29-30 at the Inspire Institute of Sport, Bellary, where they are currently training. Of the eight Olympic categories, trials will be held in six. Amit Panghal (52kg) and Manish Kaushik (63), who won silver and bronze medal respectively at the world championships, have been given direct berths.

Two categories that are crowded with quality boxers are 57kg and 69kg. Top seed Kavinder Bisht will be up for some serious challenge in 57kg, where youth word champion Sachin Siwach and 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Gaurav Solanki have moved up after Panghal’s domination in the lower weight division (51kg). Not to forget Mohammad Hussamuddin, the Gold Coast CWG bronze medallist, who beat Siwach to win the national championships title this year.

In 69kg, Vikas Krishan, who is coming back to amateur boxing after competing in professionally in the US, has been given top billing. Krishan, 27, won gold at the CWG last year. The contenders are Naveen Bora, the highly rated Army boxer who won the national title, Duryodhan Negi and Ashish.