Late on Tuesday night outside the Indira Gandhi Stadium, Pinki Jangra burst into tears. The reality of her defeat to North Korea's Pang Chol Mi in the quarterfinals of the Women's Boxing World Championships just a couple of hours earlier had just set in.
At 28, with multiple international medals including the 2014 Commonwealth bronze behind her, Jangra is one of the senior-most members of the Indian contingent. Yet as she sobbed at having fallen one hurdle short of a maiden World medal, it was one of the youngest, Sonia Chahal, who put her arms around her to comfort her.
Amidst a few other disappointing results, Chahal, 21, had provided succor to Indian women's boxing that evening too. Competing in the women's 57kg category on the same evening, the 21-year-old had advanced to the semifinals, assuring her of at least a bronze medal at her debut World Championships.
She is one of four Indians who will return with medals at the Worlds out of the ten who stepped into the ring in New Delhi.
Of the four medals, one was expected. Mary Kom is now guaranteed a seventh medal and could well return with a historic sixth gold on Saturday. But the three others - courtesy Lovlina Borgohain in the 69kg division, Simranjit Kaur in the 64kg category and Chahal in the women's 57kg category -- have been won by women competing at their very first world level tournament, a result that is hugely satisfying for coach Raffaele Bergamasco.
"I'm very happy that Mary Kom won a medal but I am very, very, happy that these three young girls (Borgohain, like Chahal, is 21 while Kaur is 23) have also won a medal. Because a medal is expected of her. But for India, these other medals are very important," says Bergamasco, who has now led India to their most successful tournament in terms of medals, in a decade.
The results were hugely important for the women, too. It was their first chance to carve a name out for themselves. Literally so in the case of Chahal.
Ahead of the tournament, her name had been referenced in official AIBA documents as her senior compatriot Sonia Lather, who had won a silver medal in the same category at the 2016 edition of the World Championships. "It was a genuine mistake. A lot people think I am Sonia Lather. AIBA also must have thought so," admits Chahal.
For Chahal, the prospect of returning without a medal was unthinkable. It meant returning to the pool of anonymity she had just managed to shrug off. "If I had not won I would really struggle to get selected for a tournament once again. Sonia Lather and Shashi I had beaten to get here and for that, it was important to get a medal. In my weight, there are a lot of experienced players. For me to go ahead I needed a medal," says Chahal.
It was a sentiment echoed by Kaur, who was used to the same nameless-ness despite having won a bronze medal at the 2013 Junior Worlds. "Even after the junior medal, no one knew who I was. When I got the chance I had to show what I was capable off," says Kaur.
In order to make those dreams a reality, Kaur made whatever sacrifices were asked of her. When her father passed away in July this year, she had to decide how much grief she could afford. "I went home after his death but I returned to the camp after ten days because I wanted to win a medal at the World Championships," she says.
Mindful of the opportunity they had been given, the pressure on these young women was immense. "The whole time in training you are concentrating as much as you can because unless I do well, I won't get a medal," says Kaur.
The tension rose to fever pitch ahead of the quarterfinal. "The only thing going in my mind is that I have to win, I have to win. I have to get my name on the medal list. When you are walking to the ring, it feels so long. So, I have to take a deep breath to calm myself. It's only when the bell rings that I can forget all of it," she says.
The medal won there is the strange realisation that they are standing on level terms as Mary Kom, the undisputed queen of Indian boxing. "We were all so shy of speaking to someone so senior. We wouldn't even talk to her," admits Chahal.
After Borgohain's bout it was Mary Kom who came up to speak to her. "She said play like this only," smiles Borgohain, who beat the 2014 World Champion and the 2016 World silver medalist to win her own bronze.
For these youngsters, Mary Kom, who at 36 is nearly a decade and a half older than them, remains the gold standard. "We are a lot younger than Mary but we want to be like her. We've seen her right from the time we started boxing," says Borgohain.
For her part, Mary Kom constantly challenges the new crop, sometimes letting them know just how far there is for them to go. "Sometimes Mary didi will tell us to do something and she can do those things easily because she is such a good boxer. And we wonder how we can do those same things," says Borgohain.
While her suggestions might not always be practical, everyone hopes to emulate Mary Kom's attitude and desire to continue winning after nearly two decades in the ring. "The one thing I have learned from her is that medal ki bhuk kabhi marni nahi chahiye (the hunger for medals should never die)" says Kaur.
As long as the hunger remains, coach Bergamasco is confident the latest batch of world medalists have their best days ahead of them. "Indians develop very different to Europeans. At 21, a European woman is already very mature and experienced. At that age, an Indian is still a girl. She will only get her maturity when she is 24 or 25. That's why Mary Kom is still boxing so well. After 25 Indians will only get better," says Bergamasco.
Former Commonwealth gold medalist Mohamad Ali Qamar, who is a coach with the women's team, agrees with this. "Right now our girls are technically better but they are not strong so they aren't able to match the older international fighters in a physical contest. But they will get stronger," says Qamar.
For their part, the girls are confident that their time is at hand. "There are some girls who are older and have more experience. That will help them for some amount. But, there is a limit to everything. In the end the young boxers will take over. Unka khun bhi garam rehta hai (Their blood is hotter)," says Chahal.