Vikas Krishan returned empty-handed from the last two Olympics, and on Sunday became only the second Indian boxer after Vijender Singh to book his place for a third Games.
Krishan sealed the quota with a unanimous 5:0 decision over world number six and third seed Sewonrets Okazawa of Japan in the quarterfinals of the 69 kg category at the Asia-Oceania Olympic qualifier in Amman, Jordan.
“Earning the quota is the first step in achieving the big goal of winning an Olympic medal,” he said.
Okazawa unsettled Krishan initially with his long reach before the Indian responded with some clean punches to take the opening round in a split 3:2 verdict. In the second, Krishan’s accuracy with his left jabs and body punches resulted in a 5:0 score.
Thereafter, Krishan, competing in only his second international tournament after his return to the amateur circuit, kept the attacking Japanese at bay and landed some clean punches in between to score a 30-27, 29-28, 29-28, 30-27, 30-27 victory.
“My strategy has been to tire the opponent initially but it did not happen in the first round as Okazawa was taking advantage of his long reach. So my aim was to hit single punches and then step back. Once I unsettled him, it was easier for me in the second round to tire him and surprise him with my jab. Facing such a quality opponent means that one can’t relax in the final round and I knew that my defence had to be up to the mark to deny him scoring chances,” Krishan said.
Return to the amateur fold
Krishan, who had been competing in the 75 Kg category since 2014, made the shift to professional ranks in 2018 signing with Top Rank in USA. The Haryana boxer won his two bouts in America but an urge to appear in his third Olympics brought him back into the amateur fold.
Prior to the national camp, Krishan trained under coach Ronald Simms and he recalled the initial change.
“In professional boxing, the focus is more on high-impact blows to score knockout wins or lasting 10-12 rounds while in amateur, it’s about impressing the judges. When I shifted to professional boxing, I made a lot of adjustments including my guard position. Even though I had competed at amateur level for more than 12 years, I had to learn things like feet movement and improving my pace on my return, apart from re-learning my guard position. Coach Ronald Simms made me try things like step-back and head slip apart from making me run 15 Kms instead of 5 Kms earlier. I also worked on my jab, for which Santiago Nieva too worked a lot in the national camp.”
In the trials for the Asia-Oceania qualifiers, Yadav edged out Duryodhan Negi in 69 Kg, a category where he competed from 2011 to 2015 and won a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships. Early in his career, Krishan had shifted to 69 Kg after struggling to maintain weight in 64 kg.
High-performance Director Santaigo Nieva believes Krishan’s strength lies in the 69 Kg category. The Swede didn’t get much time to train Yadav after joining post-2016 Olympics but the last six months has seen Nieva making some changes in Yadav’s approach.
“When he joined us in the national camp last year, Vikas was flat-footed and stationary in the ring. So we had to work on improving his feet movement and worked to make him throw more punches as compared to middle-weight (category). His ability to throw power punches in middle-weight helps him in welter-weight. His blocking is good but he needs to counter immediately, which can help him win a medal in Tokyo. He has faced a lot of opponents in his career and his experience will come handy in Tokyo,” says Nieva.
As for Krishan, he wants to win a medal in Tokyo for his three kids. “My elder son was an infant when I lost in London and the other two have not watched me competing. I want to win a medal with them watching and that has kept me going.”