Tokyo Olympics dream intact for 57kg pugilist Kavinder Bisht

The Asian Championships silver-medallist hopes to clinch his quota at World Olympic Qualifiers in June, 2021.

Kavinder Bisht won the silver medal at the Alexis Vastine tournament in France.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Kavinder Bisht isn’t among the nine Indian boxers who have already qualified for the Olympics. With six months left for the all-important event, he has just one chance to grab his berth – at the World Olympic Qualifiers scheduled to be held in June in Paris. Bisht is hoping 2021 will be the year he realises his dream of participating in the Olympics for the first time.

After a sobering lockdown period, Kavinder toured Europe with the Indian team, participating in the Alexis Vastine tournament in France in October 2020. That trip was valuable for him, as he was able to shed his rust.

“The trip to Germany and Italy was nice; it was a new start for us after months of inactivity, some valuable international exposure,” Kavinder, who boxes in the 57kg category, told Sportstar from Bellary, Karnataka, where he is training with the Indian team.

“The trip was motivating, and I did well in the competition I took part in as well (silver medal). When we went back to Patiala for the training camp after the lockdown, we were rusty, but as we trained and then entered competitions, our bodies were set,” he said.

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Lockdown challenge 

The year 2019 was a fruitful one for Kavinder, as he won two medals in top-level tournaments: silver at the Asian Championships, where he defeated then reigning 56kg world champion Kairat Yeraliyev in the quarterfinals, and a gold at the GeeBee tournament in Finland. Just months later, the lockdown provided a big challenge for him. He tried his best to keep himself in good shape at home in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.

“We used to train according to the schedule given to us. It was all basic, we neither had the instruments needed for full training, nor a coach at hand to guide us, but we still tried to train as best as we could given the circumstances. We had to make do with shadow boxing,” Kavinder said.

“For a month or two we weren’t able to go out of our home. So we were using our skipping rope to keep fit. After a couple of months, we had a ground near our home, and no one visited that ground in the mornings, I used to visit that ground; I had a cousin brother who would help me train, and a punching bag was in place as well, so those things helped,” he said.

Kavinder used the lockdown period to improve a particular aspect of his game.

“I used to have this problem: in bouts, I would lose my balance a little and my momentum would take me too far forward. My body balance wasn’t ideal when I would be landing my punches. Therefore, my punches wouldn’t land on target. I have improved on that front considerably,” he revealed.

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Switching categories 

Kavinder’s first noteworthy performance was the 2017 World Championships, where he finished as a quarterfinalist in the 52kg category. He had switched his category by the time he conjured an encore, a couple of years later. What prompted the change?

“I had intended to change my weight category to 57kg well before 2018. I changed it because my weight would increase pretty quickly, and the sport demands a consistent weight. Also, since I wasn’t able to maintain my weight, my performance would suffer and I would have injuries. As our age increases, our body weight also goes up,” Kavinder reasoned.

Kavinder will participate in a few invitational tourneys, the first of which is in Bulgaria, as he gears up for the Olympic qualifier. “I am confident that I will get a quota at the tournament,” he said.

Does he believe the Olympics should be held despite the threat of the novel coronavirus?

“The Olympics should be held because thousands of athletes are preparing for this. The threat of the coronavirus will remain. The dream for athletes is to participate in the Olympics, and the athletes who have qualified will be shattered if the Games are not held,” Kavinder stated.

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