World Championships silver in bag, Amit Panghal eyes Olympic glory

Amit Panghal, who became the first Indian male boxer to win a silver medal at the World Championships, has set his eyes on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Amit Panghal is the first Indian male boxer to win a World Boxing Championships silver medal.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It was a historic Saturday for Indian boxing. Up until this week, no Indian boxer had bettered a bronze medal at the World Championships. The moment finally arrived when Amit Panghal scripted history by winning the silver medal at the Worlds. The journey hasn't been easy. From Rohtak to Russia, boxing against odds, the pint-sized pugilist has come a long way.

READ: Amit Panghal bags silver in boxing world championships

"It was a surreal moment when I entered the ring. I knew it was going to be tough but I gave it all I had. Gold is what I dreamt of, but I am happy with the silver," Panghal told Sportstar from Russia.

His salute after winning a bout has now become a trend, but it's the Indian flag on his jersey that he lives for. "India, Bharat" he pauses, with a bundle of emotions choking him. "It's a dream to wear this (India) jersey. To represent my nation is an honour and I would like to thank my brother Ajay who encouraged me to take up the sport. I believe one day I can become the World Champion," he said.

Amit Panghal being congratulated for winning the silver medal after the final bout at the 20th AIBA World Boxing Championships.

Amit Panghal being congratulated for winning the silver medal after the final bout at the 20th AIBA World Boxing Championships.   -  Getty Images

Traditionally, taller boxers have an advantage as it gives them a greater reach. In the final, Panghal, 5'2", was up against a taller boxer yet again.

He went down to Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan in an intense 52kg bout. Panghal failed to land his punches accurately and when counter-attacked, opened up his defence. The Indian had defeated Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov (5'6") in the semifinal.

"I can't help with my height, but I am trying to work on how to tackle taller boxers. It was not the first time that I was facing a taller guy. I discussed with my coaches and there was a plan B. But unfortunately, I couldn't pull it off today," he said.

Nimble footwork, speed, ducking, swaying and, most importantly, his sideways movement to nullify any reach advantage an opponent has makes Panghal successful. But, that's easier said than done.

"That's my game and I need to evolve. Inside the ring, I am myself and the trick is to maintain my composure when the opponent is attacking. I know I have a good defence and I understand what the opponent is thinking. I like to keep moving around the ring," he said.

ALSO READ: A silver worth its weight in gold for Amit Panghal

The reigning Asian Champion now has his eyes set on Tokyo Olympics. "Bagging a silver at the Worlds is an achievement. But to win an Olympic medal is a dream for every athlete. It's important to train in a specific manner and it involves a lot of dedication, determination and effort. Technique-wise nothing is going to change drastically, but I need to develop in certain areas and I will come out as a better boxer," he said.

The Indian boxing contingent along with the support staff after the medal ceremony in Russia.   -  Rajnarayan

 

Panghal acknowledged the feats of Indians who have won at the Worlds. Among men, Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017) won the bronze in earlier editions.

"It's a proud feeling that we Indians are able to win medals at the Worlds. I am happy, rather blessed to win the silver and I thank all my fellow Indians for the support."

- Amit is going a long way, says High Performance Director -

Indian boxing's High Performance Director, Santiago Nieva, said he is thrilled with Amit's silver-medal show. "It's a terrific achievement and I am really happy for Amit. To come this far is big and Indian boxing is growing steadily."

Panghal's game plan was always simple. He would first study his opponent in the first round and then come up with a bag of tricks in the following rounds.

"The second and third rounds (in the final) were close," Santiago said. "That's how his approach is and we, as a coaching staff, wouldn't like to change (that). He is not tall but has a solid defence and knows how to break through the opponent's defence and land the punches. It's a work in progress and today's result gives us the confidence that we can do well in Tokyo."

ALSO READ: Panghal shows he belongs to highest level with World Championships silver

Facing Zoirov was no mean task. "He has been in tremendous form but became a little predictable in the final. There will be moments where we need to go back to the drawing board and analyse. But, for the moment, we will celebrate. Probably order his favourite meal and then fly back to India for a grand one. As a coach, this is one of the defining moments in my career," said Santiago. "I tell you, Amit is going a long way."