New crop makes the cut

With Tokyo Olympic Games not far away, emerging boxers have shown they are ready to take on the world’s best

Sonia is among the new crop of young women boxers making a mark on the world stage.

The Women’s World Championship has ushered in new hopes for Indian boxing. Amidst inspiring stories of resurgence and success at the prestigious tournament, the home boxers have carved some of their own. With the Tokyo Olympic Games not far away, the emerging lot has shown they are ready to take on the world’s best.

India’s 10-member squad finished the Worlds with four medals. Their best performance of eight medals had come in 2006, when they hosted the event for the first time with only 33 countries participating. With women’s boxing growing in leaps and bounds after being included in the Olympic fold, this edition in New Delhi witnessed a surge -- 62  countries fielded their boxers. India’s tally in the preceding years was four medals in 2008, two in 2010, one in 2012, two in 2014 and one in 2016.

Mary Kom, the five-time champion, has been the mainstay of women’s boxing for years. Her remarkable run in the current championship has only added to her legend. But the performances of Lovlina Borgohain (69kg), Sonia Chahal (57kg) and Simranjit Kaur (64kg) – were the biggest takeaways for India, not to forget, the promise which Manisha Maun showed by stunning the reigning world champion Dina Zhalaman of Kazakhstan.

“I think it’s a superb performance to have four boxers in medal rounds. Only China have more medallists. Even the girls who did not win medals have given tremendous performance beating good opposition,” High-Performance Director of the team Santiago Nieva told DH.

Lovlina, Sonia and Simranjit made their debut on the biggest platforms in style. They learnt to keep their focus on the big stage and did not get carried away by the endless expectations of the fans. All three had their own journeys to world medals.

Lovlina, the Commonwealth Games quarterfinalist this year, is counted among the best Indian prospects. The 21-year-old used to practice Muay Thai before switching to boxing. She is among the fittest Indian boxers and the only one to beat Mary in sprints, recently introduced as part of their training. Sonia, coming from Nimri village of Bhiwani district, did phenomenally well under pressure. She had replaced the seasoned Sonia Lather –- the only medal winner for India in the 2016 edition -- but kept her composure in tough bouts. Simranjit hails from a family of boxers. She lost her father in July but showed tremendous grit to find inspiration in boxing.

India’s Italian coach Raffaele Bergamasco was delighted with the progress shown by the boxers. “I am happy because my team now is doing well, step by step. They are understanding my methodology. All countries are very strong, especially the Asian countries. We have worked only eight months on this team, it was a small time to prepare. So it is a good performance for sure,” he said.

India’s coach Shiv Singh said they focused on long-term performance of the boxers. They analysed the girls’ bouts and realised they needed to work on their strength. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), thus, roped in strength and conditioning expert Rickard Mats Nilsson who worked with the boxers in July.

“Rickard visited the team, and it helped the girls. Still, strength is one area we need to work on. If you see the BMI level of our girls compared to the Europeans, we are nowhere,” Singh said.

“We also analysed where we were losing out and worked on correcting the faults. We worked on speed and latest tactics, for instance maintaining distance and counterpunching. Since our girls are not that strong we relied on counterpunching to get more impact on the opponents. That was a major point.”

Singh, however, said the youngsters would need time to fine-tune their skills. “They are still maturing. Every fruit requires its own time to grow up. These boxers will take a little time. It comes with experience. We have many youngsters who are coming up.

While Santiago believes the new generation of Indian boxers is ready to take over, he stressed that improvement was needed at all levels, including the country’s infrastructure. “The main thing is to see where we can make the most difference with every dollar we spend. We need the infrastructure of a national system. We need good training centres and good competition system at the grassroots level. Now we are struggling in these areas a little too much. We are not at the level of Kazakhstan, Russia, or Ukraine where there are competitions every weekend.

“If you look at the positive side we have the resources to go for international competitions and camps. On the negative side, I still don’t know about the National Championships scheduled to be held in December. Our national calendar for next year is still nowhere, I don’t know about the India Open next year which was so successful last year, so many things are still pending. I am confident in the coming weeks everything will start to settle down but right now we are behind our schedule.”

The route to Olympics for India, Santiago cautioned, won’t be easy.

“We have beaten many world championships medalists, world champions, done well against top nations. But the problem is that the whole of Asia is doing well –- China, South Korea, North Korea -- they will be our main rivals for Olympic qualification. We will have to continue improving because Olympic qualification will be extremely tough. Last time there was no woman who qualified,” he said.

“But I also think there is a new generation of young Indian boxers and it is not just Mary Kom. Our young girls are showing how good we are at the world level,” he said.

The boxing fraternity is excited indeed.

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