Akhil Kumar may not have an Olympic medal from Beijing to show, but Cuban coach BI Fernandez rates him the best Indian boxer.
The Cuban is a naturalised Indian, having been associated with boxing in the country for 17 long years. He feels Indian boxing has come of age with the mushrooming talent. He is particularly impressed with the lot that went to Beijing.
When he picks Akhil as the best, naturally the question that follows is what about Vijender who has won a bronze at the Olympics. Fernandez's answer is that Akhil is a cut above the rest.
"Akhil is undoubtedly the best boxer at this point of time. He has defeated some of the best boxers, including the World Champion and World No 3 at the Olympics. It is highly creditable and no wonder all boxers look up to Akhil for inspiration," said Fernandez.
Fernandez says the competition has become pretty tough at the top and the shift in the balance of power could be seen in the way some of the top countries failed to prove their credentials. Here he mentioned India's rise at the international level.
"We have done extremely well at the Olympics. Our boxers' performance was highly commendable as competition is getting tougher and tougher. Imagine, a powerhouse like Uzbekistan failed to win any medal and top contenders Cuba has no gold medal," he said.
Akhil, who is seen as a role model by both Vijender and Jitender Kumar, was India's best bet at Beijing but the 26-year-old missed out on a medal as he lost his quarterfinal bout.
On Akhil's boxing style, Fernandez said: "Akhil boxes with his guard down and that is something which I won't advise any youngster to follow. But I don't want to change Akhil's style because I don't want to fiddle with his natural approach to boxing. He has good reflexes and that helps him to relax and box freely with his guard down."
Fernandez feels Akhil can still fulfil his dream of winning an Olympic medal in the 2012 London Games.
"Akhil still has a chance of winning an Olympic medal. But his main problem is injuries. Before going to Beijing he had problems with his wrist and nose. He had to go into his quarter-final bout against Maldovan Veaceslav Gojan, after heavy doses of antibiotics. If only he were fully fit, India would have come back with two medals," said Fernandez.
The coach was also full of praise for Vijender, but at the same time he sounded a note of caution about his general fitness.
"Vijender's main problem is fitness while Jitender has to work hard. They both are young and have good careers ahead of them. Both have a good idol in Akhil and that's a major plus point," said Fernandez.