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Farewell Dingko Singh, a Fighter On And Off the Ring

A go-getter who sowed the seeds of India’s boxing revolution, Dingko Singh lost his battle to liver cancer at 42. 

Updated
Boxing
3 min read
Dingko Singh broke India’s 16-year-old jinx at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.
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The Indian sporting fraternity on Thursday, 10 June, bid adieu with a heavy heart to Ngangom Dingko Singh, a maverick boxer who won a gold medal in the 1998 Asian Games, as he passed away after a valiant battle with liver cancer. Singh was 42 years old.

Dingko, who ended India’s 16-year-long win drought in the Asian Games in Bangkok, was bestowed the Arjuna award in 1998 and the nation's fourth-highest civilian honour – the Padma Shri – in 2013.

Dingko was the driving force behind Manipur’s boxing revolution, with the likes of Mary Kom, Suranjoy Singh, Sarita Devi, and Devendro Singh following in his footsteps. While his alacrity and brute force that knocked down many an opponent was a massive source of inspiration, equally touching was the lion-hearted spirit with which he fought adversity to rise through the ranks.

Dingko Showed the Stomach for Fight

Dingko endured the pangs of poverty right from his birth after losing his parents at a tender age. He was brought up in an orphanage in Sekta in modest circumstances. It was when the Indian government launched the Special Area Games Scheme to scout promising athletes from remote areas of the country that Dingko's hidden talent came to the fore.

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Trained under the vigilant eye of Major OP Bhatia, who later became the Executive Director of the Teams Wing at Sports Authority of India, Dingko was soon nurtured into a fine prospect. Clinching the Sub-Junior National Boxing title in 1989 at the age of 10 ensured selectors and coaches alike took note of his vim and vigour.

Success at His Feet on Maiden International Tour

Dingko hit the ground running on his international debut in the King's Cup 1997 held in Bangkok, Thailand, not only lifting the trophy but also being declared the best boxer of the meet.

He was selected for the Indian Boxing squad participating in the 1998 Asian Games but was dropped at the eleventh hour for reasons unknown. Shellshocked by the snub, Dingko embarked on a drinking spree and consumed a pint too many to lose consciousness.

However, he made the cut eventually and the event proved to be the pinnacle of his career as he scripted history by winning the Gold medal in the 54 kg Bantamweight category.

Dingko soaking in the applause after securing Gold at the 1998 Asian Games. 
Dingko soaking in the applause after securing Gold at the 1998 Asian Games. 
(Image: PTI)
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In his emphatic expedition to the Gold, Dingko pulled off an upset against Thailand’s Wong Prages Sontaya, ranked World No 3 at that time, in the semi-finale. Such was the might of the dark horse that finalist Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan had to retire after the fourth round of the bout.

Always the Fighter

His next goal was to bring home glory at the forthcoming National Games and at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. However, an untimely fracture forced him to hang up his gloves. Dingko went on to serve in the Indian Navy and groom the succeeding legion of Indian boxers as a coach with the SAI in Imphal.

Calamity struck in 2017 as Dingko was diagnosed with liver cancer. He underwent surgery and recovered steadily but was far from achieving the pink of health. A relapse occurred during the lockdown last year and the former boxer had to be airlifted to Delhi from Manipur for treatment. On return home, he got exposed to COVID-19 and combated with every ounce of his willpower to defeat the virus.

Dingko Singh being felicitated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 
Dingko Singh being felicitated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 
Image: PTI

The journey of Dingko has been replete with crests and troughs. It’s the folklore of a kid from humble backgrounds who rose above limitations with sheer grit, the teenager who took the country’s boxing scene by storm. The respected figure will always be remembered for the legacy he left behind. And the never-say-die attitude.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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