Sonia Chahal is a 21-year-old rising Indian boxing prodigy who hails from Chandigarh. She recently made waves at the 10th Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi, where she went till the finals of the competition before bowing out of the competition with a Silver. This was Chalal’s maiden Championship. She plies her trade in the 57 kg featherweight category of the sport.
|Full Name||Sonia Chahal|
|Sports Category (Current)||57 kg (Featherweight)|
|World Ranking (Current)||–|
|Age||21 (as of 2018)|
|Height||5ft 2in (1.58 m)|
|Education||Bachelor of Arts (currently in the final year) at MDU, Rohtak|
Sonia Chahal was born in a farming family based in a village called Nimri in the Charkhi district, Haryana.
The trail-blazing boxer took up boxing in 2012 when she was just 14-year-old. Initially, her parents were sceptical about her taking up boxing, as that would have meant she had to leave her village for Bhiwani, where the boxing academy was based. However, they let her train there for 6 months. It was only when Sonia had won a silver at the National School Championships that her parents were satisfied. Her brother, Sumit Chahal, then accompanied and stayed with her at the Bhiwani Boxing Academy in the three years that followed.
However, the period after 2012 was a difficult one for her family and one in which they witnessed an economic downturn. With a bad rainy season and the government failing to give proper prices to crops meant they were thrown into a financial turmoil.
Nonetheless, like Sonia fights off in the boxing ring, the Chahal household stuck together and fought against all odds. Jai Bhagwan, her father, had to take a 4-acre field on lease to support his family. He grows paddy and wheat on these fields.
Her younger brother, who was studying in 9th grade, dropped out of the school to be with his father. Sumit would handle most of the physically exhausting tasks in the fields.
Back home, Sonia’s mother would milk the buffaloes and sell the milk to make her contribution. As a result of all the family member’s hard work, their economic state elevated significantly. What was special about these efforts is that, during this testing time, the family ensured that Sonia’s boxing practice was not harmed. It is probably because of these sacrifices and efforts that Sonia went on to clinch a silver at the World Boxing Championships in 2018. Later on, after proving her mettle on the world boxing map, Sonia also managed to secure a job with Indian Railways, giving her contribution to the family.
Sonia Chahal had taken boxing after getting inspired by Kavita Chahal, who also hails from the same village of Nimri. In fact, Sonia is the eighth boxer from the village. She trained at the famous Bhiwani Boxing Club, where she was coached under the aegis of a Dronacharya awardee Jagdish Singh. It was this academy that has produced such stalwarts like Vijender Singh, an Olympic bronze medalist. Recently, she recalled how she would
World Boxing Championship Success
Sonia was an unknown personality coming into the 2018 World Championships in New Delhi. The 10th edition of the bi-annual event was hosted at the KD Jadhav Indoor Stadium from 15 November to 24 November. Her only major achievements was a National Championship medal that she had won in 2017.
Sonia made her way into the quarterfinals after defeating Stanimira Petrova, a seasoned boxer from Bulgaria. The contest was highly eventful, as Chahal was trailing the 2014 World Boxing Champion (54 kg) entering into the final round. However, the turn of events saw Chahal closely edge past Petrova by 3-2 score, a decision that did not go well with her Bulgarian coach Petar Lesov. The 1980 Olympic gold winner threw a water bottle very close to the ring, which saw him and Petrova being suspended indefinitely. AIBA also withdrew Petrova’s accreditations for making corruption accusations without proof.
In the quarterfinals, Sonia downed another veteran boxer in the shape of Columbia’s Marcela Yeni Castaneda in a 4-1 split decision. Chahal began with a solid first round but then seemed to be on the back-foot in the second. She ended the third round on a high note to book a place in the semifinals.
Sonia excelled in the semifinals as well by using the same strategy to defeat Son Hwa-Jo of North Korea. She started the match on a passive note with Sonia rarely landing a punch in the first round. Like Chahal, the North Korean pugilist too had adopted a counter-punching strategy. But with the Indian rarely attacking, Hwa-Jo turned aggressor. In the second round, Sonia moved briskly around the ring, that caused immense problems for Jo who was failing to land any clean punches, much to her annoyance.
However, it was in the third round when the Indian boxer went into the top gear, landing her right-handed punches cleanly. Jo was taken aback with the sudden onslaught of punches, tilting the scales in Chahal’s favour. She won the game by unanimous 5-0.
“I can’t believe I’ve progressed to the final, I’m really happy I did it at such a young age. The final match will be very tough but I’ll do my best in the ring,” she later said after the win.
Waiting for her in the finals was Ornella Gabriele Wahner of Germany, who ultimately proved to be a far cry for the young Indian.
From the start, Sonia’s bout seemed like a one-sided affair in favour of the German, who was successful in landing a flurry of punches towards the end of the opening round.
Chahal failed to use her taller height to her advantage as the German began the following round on an attacking note as well. The latter pushed Chahal to the corner of the ring where she once more landed a few left-handed jabs.
The thirds round saw the same story repeating itself as ultimately, Sonia suffered to a 1:4 by split decision. Nonetheless, a silver in her debut season was still an astounding achievement for the 21-year-old.
She currently resides and trains at the National Boxing Academy in Rohtak, where she is also completing her Bachelors in Arts program at the Maharshi Dayanand University. Her next target is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Problem of Mistaken Identity
The one peculiar problem Sonia Chahal faces is that of been mistaken for fellow senior boxer Sonia Lather. The two not only share the same first name but also have the same hairstyles, weight classes (57kg) and now World Championships Silver as well. Moreover, they both hail from the same state- Haryana.
Last year after National Championship win, many called the ‘other’ Sonia for congratulatory greetings. In fact, in her World Championship 5-0 win against Doaa Toujani of Morocco, the broadcasters actually displayed ‘Sonia Lather’ in place of ‘Sonia Chahal’, much to the dismay of the junior Sonia.
“It is really strange. Even people in the media get it wrong. In a few articles and pictures I’ve been mentioned as Sonia Lather,” she later said to the media. Naturally, one is bound to feel annoyed if someone else is given the credit for your achievements. Hopefully, this would change after Sonia’s silver-medal-winning antiques at the World Boxing Championships.
The biggest thing about Sonia Chahal’s play is her calmness, according to her coach Jagdish Singh. She uses her serenity to the best effect, waiting for her opponent to make the first move. What assists Chahal in this strategy is an excellent defence and an even better counterpunch. Also, as the opportunities of hitting in this ‘counter boxing’ style are limited, the punches need to be very accurate and precise. Sonia has these qualities as well, making her one of India’s most feared Counter Boxers at the moment.
What she needs to work on, according to Jagdish, is her physicality and strength to be ready to face world-class boxers.
Sonia Chahal was born in a farming family in Nimri, near Bhiwani, Haryana. Her father, Jai Bhagwan owns a farm in their native place where he grows paddy and wheat. Her brother, Sumit Chahal had to drop out of the school when he was 9th grade to help his father in the field work. Sonia’s mother too supports the family.
|2012||Silver||–||National School Games|
|2018||Silver||57||Women’s World Boxing Championships|