A fascinating video keeps doing the rounds in boxing and MMA forums. The shaky footage of a sparring session shows a 64-year-old getting in the ring with a grinning, brawny youngster, scare him into a corner with head bobs and swift strikes, slipping under a wild left hook and flooring the opponent with a right — all over the course of 40 seconds. The man in question — Ernesto Bergamasco, who represented Italy at the 1972 Olympics, has become a cult hero for anyone who enjoys a good tale of comeuppance. His son, however, isn’t impressed.
“I… no happy with the video,” Raffaele Bergamasco — the first foreign coach for India’s women youth boxers — sums up, explaining that his father might have been a little too heavy-handed with his unsuspecting victim. “For me, it is no good beating up other people. When trying to teach a lesson, I believe a coach shouldn’t be too strong with other people.”
Raffaele, of course, takes the role of a coach very seriously. While he never replicated his father’s feats as a competitor, the five-time national champion took part in the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics as a coach. After guiding the Italian women’s team from 2001 to 2007, he took over at the helm of the senior and junior men’s sides and contributed to six Olympic medals. He was let go after a barren run in Rio, and found his way to India, where he spent a month training girls in Bhopal before taking up the performance director’s post in July. The baptism by fire comes in the form of the Youth World Championships which start in Guwahati on November 19, and Bergamasco realises the significance. “Anything with juniors is very important for me. This format is crucial, because we continue with the girls for three more years and prepare for the Olympics. If we continue with a proper structure, a gold in Olympic is very possible.”
Bergamasco, however, refuses to forecast a medal count for the upcoming tournament.
“There are two things. I don’t like putting a number on medals and say, ‘we will get three or four medals.’ It puts pressure on the girls. The second thing is more important. I am sure we will put on a strong performance. Chief coach Bhaskar Bhatt is less shy in his predictions.
“I can assure you we will be in the tally, probably with 2-3 medals. This bunch of girls performed well during the exposure trips to Kazakhstan, Turkey and Bulgaria. On top of that, Raffaele has focused on key areas in the short time that he’s been here. He stresses on making the movements automated. He simulates different match situations against different kind of opponents, and wants the girls to do certain movements from their muscle memory.” Senior national coach Santiago Nieva chipped in with his inputs during the camp in Delhi. But unlike the Argentine — who relies on WhatsApp, video footage and a tweaked training regimen — Bergamasco’s concerned with the basics.
“Santiago is doing a good job. Personally, it is about the long haul for me and a change in methodology at the youth level is no good. I need at least a year before any change. Right now, it’s about strengthening the basics. You have to do it slowly, step by step.” Slowly and step by step, just like his Hindi and English lessons. “All day, when I’m not with the team, I keep practising the languages. India has been very good for me. But learning a new language is very difficult.” Google Translate has been a godsend for all parties involved.
“Whatever Italian he speaks, we translate it into English and pass it along,” says Bhatt. “What we or the girls want to say is translated into Italian. Sometimes, when he doesn’t have the time to type, he speaks Italian into the phone and it is translated into English for everybody. With such technology around, who cares about language barriers?”
Learning Hindi, apparently, has been more organic. “Namaste, namaskaar, aap kaisa hai, main accha hun, jai mata di, chalo chalo,” Bergamasco signs off.