New Delhi:Akhil Kumar sounded like a brash young man when he spoke up for his fellow-boxers demanding clearance of South African physio Matthew Heath for the Beijing Olympics. His argument was that when people with no chance of winning a medal could go with their entourage, why not the boxers who have the potential to do well.
Still, Akhil remained an unsung hero. "Don't forget me If I fail to win a medal," was his parting shot before boarding the flight. Medal or no medal, he is highly popular among his peers.
He might have missed the medal he promised to his Bhiwani folk by a whisker, yet Akhil was given a hero's welcome on his return home from the Olympics early on Tuesday.
Huge garlands drowning his neck, Akhil's homecoming reception at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport was as grand as that for India's first Olympic gold winner Abhinav Bindra. The boxer with his zeal had won the hearts of the masses and that was evident by the huge turnout of his admirers.
Akhil, along with bronze winners Vijender Singh and Jitender Kumar, put Bhiwani on the boxing map with their quarter-final appearance at the Olympics. Akhil failed to cross the next hurdle but his heroics in the ring fetched him the fame he longed for all his life.
More important, he came to be known as the "friend, philosopher and guide" of Vijender and Jitender, both of whom fought for Akhil after he lost his bout. They like his transparent sincerity and outspokenness.
Such was the clamour to have a glimpse of Akhil that his own parents had to join the spectators as they watched the cheering crowd hold him aloft on their shoulders.
"It feels good to see him getting so much love and affection. It has been quite tiring for us since we have been waiting for him for almost two hours. Let this be over, we will have our celebrations at home," said his proud father.
Akhil himself was bewildered by the magnitude of the reception. Amidst the banners and din of chants hailing him, a group of schoolchildren from Bhiwani played the band to take the euphoria to a crescendo.
"I have not got this kind of welcome before. All credit goes to the media. They supported us all through. And it is because of them that people from far off places have come to see us. This kind of rapturous welcome, no doubt, will gives us a lot of encouragement, but importantly boxing will get a huge boost," Akhil told IANS.
"If this is the kind of encouragement we will be receiving for our performance, I will strike gold in the next Olympics," he added.