No Olympic berths but Indian boxers aim to better medal colour

India’s hopes will be majorly pinned on reigning Asian Championships and Asian Games gold-medallist Amit Panghal, who has been on a roll for more than a year.

The World Championships features the revised eight weight categories earmarked for Tokyo 2020, instead of the traditional 10 divisions.   -  AP

The coveted Olympic berths are no longer at stake but Indian boxers will not be short on motivation when they step inside the ring to better a record which states four medals from 20 editions, in the men’s World Championships in Russia from Monday.

Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017) make the exclusive club which has experienced what it feels like to be on the podium at amateur boxing’s marquee event. All these men ended with bronze medals and that is another aspect in which the Indians would be eyeing an improvement.

“It is going to be tough. The aim is to improve on what we have done in the past. That’s what we work for,” Indian Boxing’s High-Performance Director Santiago Nieva said.

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It was meant to be an Olympic qualifier and features the revised eight weight categories (52kg, 57kg, 63kg, 69kg, 74kg, 81kg, 91kg, +91kg) earmarked for Tokyo 2020, instead of the traditional 10 divisions.

However, the event was stripped of Olympic qualifier status after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lost patience with the long-standing administrative mess in the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and took control of the entire process, which will now start next year.

With that status gone, the tournament has lost a bit of sheen.

Nevertheless, it is still likely to feature around 450 boxers from 87 countries in 400 fights spread across 12 days.

India’s hopes will be majorly pinned on pint-sized dynamo Amit Panghal (52kg). The reticent 23-year-old from Haryana has been on a roll for more than a year.

He is a reigning Asian Championships and Asian Games gold-medallist.

The Army-man came quite close to a world medal in his 2017 debut when he exhausted the then-defending champion Hasanboy Dusmatov in the quarterfinals but went down 2-3 in the 49kg category.

Panghal had his revenge in the Asian Games final where he outpunched Dusmatov for the gold and showed himself to be a serious contender for glory at the worlds.

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“There is no 49kg and 60kg this time, categories that we are really good at. I think we are going to get a very good idea of where we stand viz-a-viz the Olympic qualifiers,” Nieva said, referring to the Asian Olympic qualifiers in February next year.

Then there is Kavinder Bisht (57kg), an Air Force man, whose bloodied face after a brutal quarterfinal in 2017 is a disturbing but unforgettable image.

Like Panghal, Bisht too was making his debut at the big event and lost 2-3 in a fight that could have given him a sensational medal. He has improved considerably since then.

At the Asian Championships this year, he accounted for the reigning world champion Kairat Yeraliyev during his silver medal-winning run. And he now has some unfinished business to take care of in the world championship.

Veteran Satish Kumar (+91kg) is the only other Indian, apart from these two, who has the experience of competing at the worlds. The former Asian Games bronze-medallist will try to ensure that ill-health doesn’t ruin his campaign the way it did in 2017.

The rest of the Indian line-up holds promise too. There is Manish Kaushik (63kg), the silver medallist from last year’s Commonwealth Games. The Army-man has been in and out of the team, locked in a tough battle for the spot with Shiva Thapa.

A medal here would help him cement the place.

Sanjeet (91kg), also a Services boxer, is another dark horse. The two-time India Open medallist has shown himself to be a lion-hearted competitor every time he has taken the ring.

His fearless approach makes him an interesting boxer to watch out for and he could well outsmart a few here.

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Ashish Kumar (75kg), who won a silver at the Asian Championships and a gold at Thailand Open this year, is also slowly rising into prominence and a breakthrough performance here would put the spotlight firmly on him as he fights in a category which has been owned by Vijender and Vikas in the past.

“We landed here early and have majorly focussed on staying busy with training and sparring with a couple of off days thrown in. Draws will be important, but they are only going to shape strategy, not our approach,” said Nieva.

The Team: Amit Panghal (52kg), Kavinder Bisht (57kg), Manish Kaushik (63kg), Duryodhan Singh Negi (69kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg), Brijesh Yadav (81kg), Sanjeet (91kg) and Satish Kumar (+91kg).