Amit Panghal bids to atone for Tokyo heartbreak in Paris Olympics - Hindustan Times
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Amit Panghal bids to atone for Tokyo heartbreak in Paris Olympics

By, New Delhi
Jun 03, 2024 11:07 PM IST

Olympic quota secured, the 51kg boxer has plans for a short training stint in Australia under former India HPD Santiago Nieva

“It won’t happen at any cost. Rest assured,” says Amit Panghal when reminded of his first round thrashing by Colombia’s Yuberjen Martinez at the Tokyo Olympics. For the 28-year-old who spent much of this Olympic cycle outside the India set-up, confidence in his craft, albeit shaken at times, has been the sole companion.

World championships silver medallist Amit Panghal (PTI file)
World championships silver medallist Amit Panghal (PTI file)

The 51kg boxer fell off the national pecking order when Boxing Federation of India (BFI) used an evaluation-based selection policy, instead of trials. However, the 2022 Commonwealth Games champion came back into reckoning after fellow Services boxer Deepak Bhoria failed to secure the Olympic quota in the division in two attempts.

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The second World Qualifiers that ended in Bangkok on Sunday was Panghal’s only chance to make it to his second Olympics, and the 2019 World Championships silver medallist didn't disappoint. He defeated Mexico’s Mauricio Ruiz 4-1 and South Korea’s Inkyu Kim and China’s Liu Chuang by unanimous verdict, joining 71kg boxer Nishant Dev as the only Indian male boxers to qualify for Paris.

“It feels like a dream. I came into this competition expecting nothing. I had only one chance, and even if I had failed, I wouldn’t have blamed myself,” he said on Monday.

Panghal appeared sluggish and reactive against Ruiz as the sharper and faster Mexican breached his defence multiple times. Panghal’s late response, however, helped him get the judges’ decision. The seasoned boxer admits he must get rid of his starting problems.

“It has been an issue with me for a while. I am a bit of a slow starter. My body starts moving better only after the opening bout. I will work on this specific area going into the Olympics.

“It has got nothing to do with technique. The weight cut we undergo before the bouts is brutal; it takes a lot out of the body. I feel I am generally slow in my opening bout but as the competition progresses, tend to find my rhythm.

“The bout against the Mexican was the toughest. He is a good boxer and I was not at my best either. It was a lot closer than what the scorecard suggests. After I went past the opening hurdle, I was sure of going the distance,” he said.

While Panghal’s slow start may have gone unpunished in Bangkok, the quality of opponents that awaits him in Paris will be unsparing. The US 2021 World Championships silver medallist Roscoe Hill, 2016 Rio gold medallist Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan and Cuba’s 2023 Tashkent World Championships bronze medallist Alejandro Claro have all qualified, making it a tough field. Colombia’s Martinez, who tripped up Panghal in Tokyo, has not made the cut.

Panghal has sought the videos of Hill, Dusmatov and Claro. “Anyone who makes the Olympics is world class, but I find these three the most dangerous. I would like to study their styles and be ready,” he said. Guiding him through his groundwork will be Cuban BI Fernandez, the former India coach now with Rohtak’s National Boxing Academy, and Panghal’s long-time coach Anil Dhankar. Panghal trained under them for a fortnight while the rest of the team was based in Bangkok ahead of the qualifiers.

“I missed quality training in the national camp, so I decided to team up with the two experienced coaches. They went out of their way to train me, tactically and technically. I am not a big advocate of overseas training anyway as it messes up with our diet and sparring.”

On return from Thailand, Panghal will continue to train with them while the national camp is likely to resume in Patiala in a week. Plans are also afoot for a stint at the Australian Institute of Sports in Canberra under former Indian high-performance director Santiago Nieva, who is the head coach of the Australian boxing team.

“I have had preliminary discussions with Nieva. He is trying to get some international teams as well, but I will make it a point not to spar with Paris-qualified boxers. This time, I don’t want anyone to get too familiar with my style,” said Panghal, who blames his extensive sparring with Martinez in the lead-up to Tokyo as a major reason for his early loss there.

If things go to plan, Panghal will travel to Australia with Dhankar for at least a fortnight, preferably from mid-June.

“I have to make up for the lost time. I want to take full control of my training and make a decisive push for the Games. I believe I have the potential to finish on the podium.”

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