It has been a long wait for Nikhat Zareen.

Since she secured the quota for 2024 Olympic Games at the Asian Games in October last year, the Telangana boxer has had her eye set on the biggest prize in her sport.

In line with being one of India’s best medal bets, the two-time World Champion has been putting in the hard yards and training hard to fulfil the expectations in July.

She boasts an impressive array of achievements, including World Championship victories in 2022 and 2023, a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2022, and a bronze medal at the Asian Games in 2023.

She carries a big reputation everywhere she goes. But with just over a month to go before her Olympic debut, she does admit that there is an element of nervousness.

“Just because I am now an experienced boxer does not mean I shouldn’t be getting nervous,” said Zareen in a virtual press conference facilitated by Sports Association of India, the Indian Olympic Association and the Boxing Federation of India on Wednesday.

“It’s my thing. I get nervous before every competition. If I don't get nervous, my body doesn’t work the way I want it to perform in the ring. When I’m nervous, my body works well and I'm focused more.”

When Zareen feels the nerves coming on, she seeks solace in conversations with her family or closest friends. Additionally, prior to arriving at the venue, she engages in activities such as listening to music, praying, and playing games.

“This helps me not get distracted and allows me to focus on my goal,” explained Zareen. “I tell myself that I have come here to win this championship.”

She’s going through the motion as the days come closer. While there is excitement, there is also the awareness about the expectations from her.

Zareen was on a golden-streak since her title at the 2022 Strandja Memorial. She dominated and won gold in every tournament that followed before it came to a halt with a bronze at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.

It was a shocker for both the boxer and many who had started to believe that she had, in fact, become unbeatable.

It was a timely reminder that she still had a lot to do to be ready for the Olympics.

In February, she won silver at the Strandja Memorial, and then travelled to Montenegro for a two-week training camp alongside from various countries and engaged in sparring sessions.

She also traveled to Turkey, where she sparred with a Tokyo Olympic silver medalist and World Champion Buse Naz Cakiroglu, who happens to be one of the main rivals in Zareen’s 50kg weight category.

“I had a really good experience pairing with her [Cakiroglu] and it gave me confidence to do well in Elorda Cup,” said the 27-year-old Indian pugilist.

Zareen returned to her golden ways when she secured a gold in the 2024 edition of Elroda Cup in Astana, Kazakhstan.

“I was really happy with the way I performed and hopefully, I keep continue to work hard and do well at the Olympics too,” she added.

Ahead of the last Olympic cycle, Zareen had to write to the Indian sports ministry to ask for a fair trial before the Tokyo Olympics. It was a request that was not fulfilled.

But ahead of the Paris Olympics, she is one of the biggest names in Indian sport.

The last three years in particular have been memorable, as Zareen has gone about earning accolades at some of the biggest competitions.

“I didn’t think that a girl who was once only seen as a challenger [could become] the face of Indian boxing,” said Zareen. “I feel blessed and grateful [that I have been able to fulfil] my dreams. The first was to become World Champion, which I was able to win twice.”

But she made it clear that the journey is not over yet. The biggest prize she has ever targeted is the Olympic medal.

“When I fulfil that dream,” she added, “then I can say, ‘Yes, I did whatever I set out to achieve.’”