India boxing coaches search for fresh talent to boost men’s squad

Indian boxers returned from the Asian Games having won four quotas for the Paris Olympics – all sealed by the women boxers. The performance of the men, however, has come under scrutiny as they failed to win a single quota place in Hangzhou.

In 51kg, Tokyo Olympian Amit Panghal and Deepak Bhoria have been India’s best for a long time.(PTI)

Of the seven boxers, only three made it to the quarter-finals with Narender Berwal (+92kg) progressing to the semi-finals, where he lost to Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev and finished with a bronze. With the next opportunity to qualify for the Paris Olympics at the World Qualification Tournament in Busto Arsizio, Italy from February 29, the coaching think tank wants to scout for fresh talent from the national championships in Shillong later this month.

“The national camp to prepare for the qualification tournament will be called after the national championships and we will be looking for new talents in some of the weight categories,” said a coach in the know of things.

Only world championships medallists – Deepak Bhoria, Nishant Dev and Mohammad Hussamuddin (he missed the Asian Games due to a knee injury) — can get a direct call for the national camp provided the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) gives them exemption, taking into account their performances. The rest of the current national campers – three boxers each from seven Olympic weight categories – will have to compete at the nationals. Coaches are also keeping a close watch on the medallists from youth world championships. India won two gold – Vishvanath Suresh (48kg), Vanshaj (63.5kg) and one silver – Ashish (54kg) — in the event.

The lower weight categories are India’s strength but performances of the current lot have not been satisfactory. In 51kg, Tokyo Olympian Amit Panghal and Deepak Bhoria have been India’s best for a long time. Deepak (51kg), who was selected ahead of Panghal, lost a close second round to world champion Tomoya Tsuboi of Japan. In 57kg, CWG and world medallist Hussamuddin’s absence saw Sachin Siwach getting the nod. Hussamuddin, who underwent knee surgery in June, has started training but will miss the national championships as he could not compete in the state trials. While his progress will be closely monitored, coaches want a strong second boxer in the weight class. Similarly in 63.5kg, seasoned Shiva Thapa has been inconsistent and 2019 world championships bronze medallist Manish Kaushik is nowhere near his best. Other weight classes — 71kg, 80kg, 92kg, +92kg – are also likely to see a rejig. “We expected one or two quota places from the men’s team but that did not happen. There are some strong teams in Asia. BFI will soon decide on exemptions and criteria for selection in the national camp,” said a BFI official.

High Performance Manager Bernard Dunne’s new selection policy of weekly assessment of boxers in place of trials has met with criticism and boxers have even knocked on the doors of the court. BFI has backed Dunne despite some opposition to the selection policy.

While the men’s team has performed below par, the women’s team has been giving good results with four of them becoming world champion at home and four boxers, including two-time world champion Nikhat Zareen and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain securing places for Paris Olympics.

“The trials are still the best way to select a team and it keeps the boxers on their toes. BFI should also have at least five to six boxers in the camp, which was the norm earlier. You need variety in the sparring,” said a selection panel member.

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