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Olympic countdown: Boxers set for Tokyo with high medal expectations

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By B Shrikant

Mumbai, July 8 (IANS) When the nine Indian boxers — five men and four women — who have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games reach the Japanese capital, they will be carrying a huge load of expectations along with their kit bags.

India have claimed only two bronze medals — Vijender Singh in 2008 and MC MaryKom in 2012 — at the Olympics. But with so many boxers making it to the Games, there are expectations that the boxers will contribute more than one medal to the overall tally.

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Though such hype and expectations would bog down many, Santiago Nieva, the high-performance director of the Indian team, says the expectations are not a burden on the boxers, who have performed well in the last couple of years and therefore are confident of their abilities.

“We know there are high expectations and we also have high expectations. Our boxers have performed at the highest level in the last few world championships — in both men’s and women’s categories — and we have won medals in the Olympic weights,” Nieva told IANS from Assisi, Italy where the nine Tokyo-bound boxers are training since the third week of June.

The boxers will leave for Tokyo from Italy so as to avoid the added travel restrictions imposed on those travelling to Tokyo from India.

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ALL EYES ON MARY KOM

Six-time world champion MC Mary Kom will be leading the Indian challenge in women’s flyweight section (51kg), gunning for her second Olympic medal after the bronze in London 2012.

Mary Kom, who is currently ranked third in the world rankings, had failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. As she is 38, Mary Kom realises that this will probably be her last chance to win another Olympic medal.

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Reigning Asian champion Pooja Rani will be another strong contender in women’s middle-weight (75kg). The 2018 World Championship bronze-medallist Simranjit Kaur and Lovlina Borgohain (welterweight 69kg) are the other members of women’s squad and both are capable of causing a few upsets and get into medal contention.

Two-time Olympian Vikas Krishan Yadav (men’s welterweight, 69kg), 2019 world silver-medalist Amit Panghal (men’s flyweight, 52kg), 2014 Asian Games bronze-medallists Satish Kumar (men’s super heavyweight, +91kg), 2018 Commonwealth Games runner-up Manish Kaushik (lightweight, 63kg) and Ashish Kumar (middleweight, 75kg) comprise the men’s team.

Nieva, the Sweden-based Argentine who has been in charge since 2017, said the boxers realise how tough the competition at the Olympics will be and are braced for the challenge.

“The boxers who have qualified for the Olympics, have gone through this process of difficult bouts. So, we expect medals and we also know, how tough it (winning medals in Olympics) is. People will not just be going there and winning a lot of medals. But our goal has always been to win medals in both men and women (sections) and that’s what we hope and we know we have possibilities to do even more than that,” added Nieva.

The nine boxers look in great form and have contributed much to India’s success in the two top events in the build-up to the Olympics.

In May this year, India bagged 15 medals (two gold, five silver, and eight bronze) in the ASBC Asian Boxing Championships that was held in Dubai.

A few months ago, in the Boxing World Cup in Cologne in December 2020, India finished with nine medals, including three gold medals.

Among the nine, Mary Kom, Vikas Krishan and Amit Panghal are the top contenders for medals in their respective categories.

“We have an experienced team. They have been in important competitions. Though the Olympics are a bit different, we are confident and our boxers are ready for the pressure. We will deal with it like any other tournament,” said Nieva said.

This is the first time that so many boxers have qualified for India. Now it has to be seen how many of them return from Tokyo with medals adorning their neck.

–IANS

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