India’s best-ever showing of 11 medals in the World youth boxing championship in Kielce, Poland, has ignited the hopes of the new-age boxers bringing laurels to the country at the 2024 Olympics.
The women boxers bagged an unprecedented seven gold medals while the men claimed four medals, including a gold and three bronze, in the event to improve upon India’s overall tally of 10 medals in 2018. The four podium finishes is also the best-ever result achieved by the men. The previous best was three medals in Armenia in 2012.
One cannot underestimate those who lost by narrow margins and have the capability of competing with the best in the world.
“Internationally, our boxers got respect. Some teams came to us and asked the reason behind such good results. Earlier we used to do the same,” says Abhishek Malviya, the head coach of the youth men’s team.
It required a lot of good planning and preparation from the coaches and solid support from authorities to produce a performance of this level.
“This is a good example of coordination and team work between the Boxing Federation of India (BFI), Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the National Centre of Excellence (NCoE), Rohtak. No boxer has gone home after reopening the centre in October. No parent has come to meet kids and no one has eaten home-cooked food (due to Covid restrictions),” says Bhaskar Bhatt, the head coach of the youth women’s team.
“We had the support of nutritionists, psychologists, physios and doctors. Any equipment we needed was given to us. Once in every 15 days, food of women boxers’ choice and men boxers’ choice was served. The kids surrendered their mobile phones and carried out instructions given to them.
“Our exposure trips were cleared without any hassles. I want to thank our authorities for allowing us to land in Poland in early April. The acclimatisation really helped our boxers.”
The end result of such a coordinated effort was a pleasant surprise.
“We expected four-five gold medals (for women). We knew our girls would do well despite the strong field. But seven gold medals was a big surprise for me,” says Bhatt.
Bhatt aptly analyses each of the ‘Magnificent Seven’. “Gitika (48kg) is gifted in terms of her composure and technical movements. Babyrojisana (51kg) is a powerhouse who can surprise her opponents with her punches. Poonam (57kg) dictates terms inside the ring. Vinka (60kg) has become better and sharper after coming down from 64kg. Arundhati (69kg) is a fine long-range boxer. Sanamacha (75kg), who had a painful knee after the semifinals, is fully focused on her job. And Alfiya (+81kg) showed that even a heavyweight boxer can have sound technique.
“If a boxer does well, he/she leaves good vibes for others. After the girls’ success, Sachin (56kg) was determined to win. He fought back brilliantly in the final to emerge champion.”
Malviya threw light on Sachin’s performance which earned India its eighth gold. “All of Sachin’s bouts were tough. He fought back nicely in the semifinal and final. It showed his mental toughness. He boxed consistently throughout the tournament.”
Even the bronze medalists — Bishwamitra Chongtham (49kg), Ankit Narwal (64kg) and Vishal Gupta (91kg) — performed really well. “They are all good boxers and have lost in close fights. They have a bright future and can do well at the 2024 Olympics.”
Malviya listed some other factors which pushed the boxers.
“Earlier, there were eight countries above us. Now we are among the top four after Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Some of our boxers have lost to eventual champions.
“Previously we used to do technical training. Now we are doing strategic training as well. We did score-oriented training. The boxers followed our instructions well.”
The excellent ambience provided by the NCoE helped nurture the talent. “The NCoE has played a vital role in grooming young boxers. Seven out of 10 boys are from Rohtak.
“The Khelo India Games has played a big role as well. Because of this, the boxers have got good infrastructure, equipment and international standard facilities. There is quality competition which gives exposure to the youngsters annually,” said Malviya.
The massive success in Poland has elevated the boxers’ confidence level.
Arundhati Choudhary — an Asian champion hailing from Kota, the hub of engineering and medical entrance students — was happy that her desire to do something different put her on the right track. “I was in basketball, but my father advised me to play some individual sport. I liked boxing. This performance will help me get into the senior camp easily,” said Arundhati.
Panipat-based Vinka, a hockey player-turned-boxer who took to sport so that her school could waive the fees, has her sight fixed on the Olympics. “I came down from 64kg (where I had an Asian gold) as 60kg is in the Olympics. If I start now, I can do well in the future,” said Vinka.
Poonam followed in her sister Sonu’s footsteps to take up boxing in Hissar and won a gold in the Asian championships. “This performance has given me more confidence,” she said.
The never-say-die Sachin, who idolises fellow Bhiwani boxer Vijender Singh, said, “The coaches made me train and prepare well. I always want to give my 100 per cent.”
Ankit Narwal, who landed a bronze, learnt from this exposure. “Feels good as I won a medal at such an event, but I could have achieved a better medal. My recovery was the issue. I have to work on it,” said Rohtak boy Narwal, whose father Sahab Singh Narwal has also groomed World championship silver-medallist Manju Rani.
Besides all the external factors, the mental toughness of the youngsters held them in good stead inside the ring.
“Everybody wanted to give his/her best and win against every opponent. The winning attitude was very important.
“If they prepare with this kind of dedication and devotion, boxers can do India proud at the 2024 Olympics,” said Bhatt.
Time will tell whether Bhatt’s words come true.