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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Punch in the gut: India’s boxing contingent for Tokyo affected as qualifiers cancelled

The ranking-based criterion in boxing, after World Olympic qualifiers were cancelled in Paris due to the pandemic, have slammed the door shut on Indian hopefuls.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: February 17, 2021 8:49:00 am
Santiago Nieva believes tracking a boxer’s potential and performances throughout the year is a better parameter for selection than ‘old school’ trials. (BFI)

A year after Indian boxers secured a historic nine quota places for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, India’s hopes of sending one boxer in each of the 13 weight categories at Tokyo Olympics this year received a jolt when the Boxing Task Force (BTF) decided on Monday night that the final World Olympic qualifier to be held in Paris, France in June later this year will not be held.

Now 53 quota places (32 men and women quotas) will be allocated across Africa, Americas, Asia/Oceania and Europe, to the best ranked boxer not yet qualified per region. India had missed on qualifying in the men’s 51 Kg, 81 Kg and 91 Kg and women’s 57 Kg category at Jordan last year and with the Indian boxers well behind in BTF Rankings at present in these categories, India will send only the nine boxers to Tokyo.

While Indian boxer Gaurav Solanki had lost out on earning an Olympic quota in the men’s 57 Kg category at Jordan with a narrow loss to eventual gold medallist Uzbekistan’s Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov in the first round, Sachin Kumar’s loss in quarter-finals in 81 Kg and Naman Tanwar’s first round loss in 91 Kg had also meant that the Indian boxing contingent was hopeful of securing a quota in these categories in Paris. In the women’s 57 kg category, Sakshi Chaudhary had lost in the quarter-finals in 57 Kg category at Jordan.

Perhaps the biggest sucker punch falls on the men’s 57 Kg category seeing the presence of 2018 CWG champion Gaurav Solanki, 2019 Asian Championships silver medallist and world championship quarter-finalist Kavinder Bisht, Sunil Siwach and 2017 World Championship bronze medallist Gaurav Bidhuri.

The women’s 57 kg will feel similarly hard done by with the likes of Sonia Chahal apart from Sakshi Chaudhary. Solanki and Chahal’s narrow losses in Jordan had curtailed their hopes but Nieva was confident of them securing a quota in Paris.

“Obviously, we are very disappointed with this development because we were preparing for the world qualifiers and we had high hopes of qualifying more boxers for the Olympics. But we understand that these are unprecedented times and unprecedented decisions need to be taken. We were fortunate earlier that we qualified nine boxers from the first opportunity we got. I hope there is still a chance but I don’t want to speculate as that’s what BTF and IOC will decide in the coming months,” said Santiago Nieva, Indian boxing’s High Performance Director, told The Indian Express.

In the statement issued on Monday, the Boxing Task Force said “This ensures a new reallocation pathway, which is based on international on-field results recorded over the past four years (2017-2021), including but not limited to the BTF Olympic Qualification Events. To ensure utmost transparency and integrity of the allocation process, the BTF rankings were reviewed by an external auditor to ensure that all results have been accounted for accurately and in compliance with the BTF’s ranking system,” the statement read.

An updated qualification system for boxing will be published as soon as possible following the approval of the IOC executive board.

From India, Amit Panghal, Manish Kaushik, Vikas Krishan, Ashish Kumar, Satish Kumar, Mary Kom, Simranjit Kaur, Lovlina Borgohain, and Pooja Rani have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. (File)

In 2018, IOC after consultation with AIBA, the world boxing body, had rejigged the 10 men’s weight categories and three women’s weight categories from 2016 Rio Olympics to eight men’s weight categories (52 Kg, 57 Kg, 63 Kg, 69 Kg, 75 Kg, 81 Kg, 91 Kg and 91 + Kg) and five women’s classifications (51 Kg, 57 Kg, 60 Kg, 69 Kg, 75 Kg).

While men’s 57 kg will see a total of 28 boxers, highest for any category, women’s 57 kg will see 20 boxers in Tokyo and Nieva believed that had the Indians qualified, they would have a chance to secure a medal in these two categories.

“Men’s 57 kg has been one of the most competitive category in men’s boxing in India and any one of Gaurav Solanki, Kavinder Bisht, Mohammad Hussamuddin, Sachin Siwach and Gaurav Bidhuri could have won a medal in Tokyo had they made the cut. We took Gaurav Solanki, Kavinder and Mohammad Hussamuddin to Europe last year and they had some good wins there. We were planning that all the five boxers will get exposure till March before we held the selection trials for the world qualifiers. It was unfortunate that we missed on a quota in Jordan and we are keeping our fingers crossed,” added Nieva.

In the BTF rankings in men’s 57 kg, Kavinder Bisht is currently ranked 14th with 212.5 points while Erdenebatyn Tsendbaatar of Mongolia is ranked seventh in the world and is expected to get the one Olympic quota from Asia in 57 kg. Similarly, Sachin Kumar is ranked 21st in 81 Kg with 125 points with Dilshodbek Ruzmetov of Uzbekistan with 290 points is expected to get the quota. In the 91 Kg, Sanjeet Kumar is ranked 29 th while Hyeong Kyu Kim of Korea ranked 16th with 150 points is expected to make the cut for Tokyo.

In the women’s BTF rankings, Sonia Chahal is ranked 18th with 155 points while Nesthy Petecio of Phillipines ranked fifth with 425 points is expected to get the quota. The last three years have seen Nieva chalking out selection trials ahead of each tournament and it has meant that most of the times, a different boxer was selected and earned ranking points in world championships in 2017, 2019 and 2019 Asian Championships, the criteria for BTF rankings.

This unfortunately also meant that one particular boxer missed on accumulating all the ranking points. “It was our strategy and policy to select the best boxer on form and hence trials were conducted prior to every event. It also provided us with having a pool of 3-4 boxers who could win medals on their day it is good for Indian boxing overall. It’s unfortunate that the qualification rules have changed and we cannot change that. We have to respect that,” added Nieva.

While the Indian men’s team had gone to Europe last year, the team will travel to Spain later this month for preparation and Nieva believes that boxers like Amit Panghal, Manish Kaushik, Vikas Yadav, Ashish Kumar and Satish Yadav have worked on their weak areas in the last six months.

“We were lucky to start training in July last year and also trained in Italy and Germany. We have worked on adding more power to the punches and improving body punches. Mixing body and head punches is very important to win a medal in Olympics. Amit has worked on making a swift start in the opening round. Somehow he got more dependent on single punches, in which he has lots of accuracy and we want him to rely on combination of punches too. Manish had suffered an injury in biceps and he has worked on focusing on close range. Vikas has got a very good lead hand and has the best jabs in the world. We have worked on his rear hand punches which can be useful in Olympics,” added Nieva.

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