Some New Faces Likely at World Championship, Boxing Nationals to Provide Options: Santiago Nieva

The Indian men’s boxing team for the world championship would be picked on the basis of performances in next month’s Nationals, High Performance Director Santiago Nieva told PTI, conceding that there is very little time in hand to go for elaborate trials. Nieva, who is currently on a break, spoke to PTI from his home base in Sweden and touched on his assessment of Indian boxers’ Olympic performance and the plans ahead for what promise to be a very busy next few months starting with the national championship from September 15.

“The world championships (in Belgrade, Serbia from October 26) is a really big assignment coming up. The time for preparation is very less so we will rely on performances in the national championships to figure the team. There is no time to hold trials,” Nieva said.

“Some new faces will definitely be there but we also need experience. So, those who participated in the Olympics will also be considered. But I guess they will have to compete in the Nationals. If they feel motivated and prepared enough, they will compete,” he added.

Five Indian male boxers — Amit Panghal (52kg), Manish Kaushik (63kg), Vikas Krishan (69kg), Ashish Chaudhary (75kg) and Satish Kumar (+91kg) — competed in the Tokyo Games. Of these, only Satish managed to go past his opening round.

Krishan is out of reckoning due to a major shoulder injury which will keep him out for three months.

Nieva is expected to be back in India ahead of the Nationals to be held in Bellary, Karnataka. India had won an unprecedented two medals at the event’s last edition with Panghal claiming a first ever silver for the country.

“It is a unique situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A world championship just three months after the Olympics is not common but it is what it is. We would try to go abroad for training after picking the team but if it doesn’t work out, we stay here and train,” Nieva said.

The Indian men’s boxers weren’t particularly impressive at the Olympics with Panghal’s first-round ouster a massive letdown.

Nieva admitted that the performance could have been a lot better and that there would be pressure on him as well as the team in the world championships.

“There is always pressure. It is never avoidable. But I don’t think it would be any different from other times. See, when you do well, people expect you to do better. If you do badly, people expect you to improve. So there is always scrutiny,” he said.

The upcoming Nationals as well as the world championships will be competed in the new weight categories introduced by the International Boxing Association last month.

The revised weight divisions for men, after being increased from 10 to 13, are 48kg, 51kg, 54kg, 57kg, 60kg, 63.5kg, 67kg, 71kg, 75kg, 80kg, 86kg, 92kg, and +92kg.

In all likelihood, someone like Panghal would compete in 51kg or 54kg and several others will also weigh their options.

Speaking of Panghal, Nieva said he has spoken to the world number one, who has been aloof after his Olympic disappointment.

“I expected him to be still bitter but good thing is he seems to be looking ahead. He came across clear and analytical about his performance and I believe that he is well on course to shrug it off and come back stronger,” Nieva said.

On the Olympic performance, Nieva both agreed and disagreed with Boxing Federation of India President Ajay Singh’s assessment that the Indians would need to focus more on the mental aspect of competing at something as big as the Olympics.

“I am not denying that we can do better, not just mental, but in several other aspects, we can always do better. But I don’t think that our boxers can be considered mentally not up there. I don’t think it is specific to our boxers,” he said.

Aside from this, the Indian boxers also seemed lacking when it came to connecting powerful punches in the Tokyo Games. Nieva said work is in progress to improve the strength and conditioning aspect.

“When I first came here in 2017, I found the techniques to be a bit old school and I believe we have improved in strength and conditioning considerably as is evident from the results of the past four years.

“Sometimes you come up against opponents who are way more strong than you, so the idea is to keep improving,” reasoned the 47-year-old, who is a member of the Asian Boxing Confederation’s coaches’ committee.

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