The rise of Amit Panghal and his brother's helping hand

Ajay Panghal describes his brother’s path to a Tokyo Games berth.

Secure alliance: Amit Panghal (left) and brother Ajay strike a pose before a training session. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

He became the first Indian boxer to win a silver medal at the 2019 AIBA World Boxing Championships. But, the icing on the cake was when Amit Panghal punched above his weight to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

It wasn’t an easy task. After the AIBA dropped the 48kg from the Olympic programme, Amit had to shift to a new weight category. And fighting in the 52kg category, the World No. 1 out-punched Carlo Paalam of Philipines in a 4-1 split quarterfinal verdict to grab a ticket to the Olympics. However, with the unprecedented spread of coronavirus, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) postponed the Games until next year.

While some athletes have expressed concerns about the postponement of the Olympics, Amit’s brother and coach Ajay Panghal believes it won’t affect his brother’s goal. “Jo hota hai ache ke liye hota hai (Whatever happens happens for the good) and we are taking it in a positive way,” Ajay told Sportstar from Pathankot, where he is posted with the Indian Army.

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“He is training at home and there is no lack of intent. These are difficult times and there is nothing in our hands. There were instances when there was a long gap. Either the tournaments were re-scheduled or injury so I don’t think this forced break will hamper our preparations. The key is to keep engaging in physical activity and be mentally focussed. He is doing everything to keep himself in shape and is keeping himself busy,” he said.

Mischievous kid

Life has changed for the Panghal brothers, especially for Amit, and the credit goes to Ajay who sacrificed his career in boxing and joined the Army in 2011 to support his family. “Usme koi to baat thi (He had something in him),” Ajay quips, before adding, “Bhagne, daudne main bada man tha, sharati tha. To mane socha akhade pe hin kyun na sahi. (He always used to like to run and play and was very mischievous. I thought, why not take him to the academy and that’s where it all started).”

Hailing from Rohtak, both brothers turned up for training at the Chhoturam Boxing Academy and as times progressed, a lanky Amit would engage in bouts with much older boys. “That’s where it struck me [that] if he is given the right support system he can go a long way,” he said.

From bagging a gold in the sub-junior nationals to winning gold in the National Boxing Championships to booking a berth in the Olympics, the journey has been nothing short of inspirational. “Olympics, wo to sapna tha ji, kabhi soche hi na (Olympics was always a dream and we never thought about it). It was only after 2014 that we actually thought and discussed about it. It’s not easy but Amit was determined and he kept winning consistently. The 2018 Asian Games gold set the tone and the silver at the Worlds gave us the confidence that Amit can indeed do well at the Qualifiers. Qualifying for Tokyo was a dream come true and a lot of hard work, some technical and mental adjustments were done. Now the goal is to win a medal at the Games whenever they happen,” Ajay said.

Special moment: Amit Panghal along with his coaches is all smiles after qualifying for his maiden Olympics. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

When asked how difficult it was to fight in a higher weight category, Ajay said, “It was difficult as more the weight category the tougher it is. But he adjusted in a very short time and it was heartening to see his commitment to the sport.”

The height factor

Traditionally, taller boxers have an advantage as it gives them a greater reach. Amit stands at 5’2”. But with nimble footwork, speed, ducking, swaying, and, most importantly, his sideways movement, tries to nullify any advantage an opponent might have; it has made Amit successful, but it’s easier said than done.

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“We knew he doesn’t have the reach and that’s where we worked on constant movement in the ring and not give the opponent a chance to corner. His determination and fearless style makes my brother special,” Ajay said.

Growing up in a modest agricultural family, Ajay quickly realised that he had to forego his boxing career as his father’s income was not enough to get better types of sporting gear. Feeding the family as well as paying for coaching was not an easy task. “I had to take the step and watching him in the ring gave me the confidence that he will succeed. That’s where I decided to join the Army and after that we were a little stable financially. The sacrifice was worth it and the results were all the more satisfying. I got him better equipment and soon moved him to Gurgaon’s Combat Boxing Club. It was professional and having got the required support and assistance, there was no looking back,” he said.

Amit Panghal and Ajay along with their parents Vijender Singh Panghal (second from left) and Usha Rani Panghal. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“It was just not me, but the entire family supported Amit. He got the right set of coaches, good diet which we couldn’t afford back then, but it was his dedication that made him successful. I am confident he will make India proud in Tokyo,” he added.

‘Keep punching’

After winning the historic silver at the Worlds, Amit told this publication that he owed the success to his brother. “He is everything to me and today whatever I have achieved his because of my brother. He is my best coach and he has been an inspiration,” Amit had said.

When asked if he considers himself as “best coach,” Ajay said, “Wo to uska badappan hai ji.. Jitna merese ho paya maine kiya... (That’s his greatness. Whatever I could do, I did).”

Amit still takes advice from Ajay before every single bout and when asked about the pep talk he offers, Ajay said, “Just keep punching your way through.”

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