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Amit Panghal’s Olympic disappointment, coaches dissect what went wrong

It has been an underwhelming performance from the country's five male boxers so far after a fantastic buildup.

It was a loss that not many saw coming, that’s how good Amit Panghal (52kg) has been for the past four years but on Saturday, he suffered the first big setback of his career, unfortunately for him, it happened at the Olympics.

It was something that has “perhaps never happened before”, world number one flyweight Panghal being dominated.
The spunky Army boxer had never been pushed to the back-foot like he was here this morning by Colombia’s Yuberjen Martinez, the light flyweight silver-medallist from the Rio Games.

“Yes, I don’t think he has been dominated like this before. All his losses have also been close, he never lets this happen,” Indian Boxing High Performance Director Santiago Nieva told PTI, the disappointment hard to miss in his voice.

So what went wrong, was it the pace of the Colombian? Or the relentless body shots? Or was Panghal not up to it?

“It is never just one factor. He would have liked an evening bout, he somehow prefers that but it is not an excuse to not do well. He had struggled against this guy in sparring. When we were in Italy, he was struggling against him in sparring, on all three occasions,” the Swede said.

“He was getting tired. Now, you can say it is a conditioning issue but this never came up against any other boxer he has fought and he has fought some world-class boxers, beaten them too,” he reasoned.

“We tried another boxer of the same class (Asian silver-medallist Deepak Kumar) during the Italy training stint, even he struggled badly against this guy. Martinez is relentless.”

It has been an underwhelming performance from the country’s five male boxers so far after a fantastic buildup.

Only Satish Kumar (+91kg) has managed to win his opening bout and he too sustained a couple of cuts which would have a bearing when he takes the ring against reigning world champion Bakhodir Jalolov on Monday.

Vikas Krishan (69kg) fought with an injury and the debutant duo of Manish Kaushik (63kg) and Ashish Chaudhary (75kg) were also not up to it in their opening round losses.

But the defeat that is going to sting the most is Panghal’s. He came in as the overwhelming favourite for a medal and has been sent packing after his very first outing.

Nieva did not believe that Martinez was some sort of an unbeatable machine that Panghal couldn’t have outwitted but admitted that the Colombian upstaged the Haryana-boxer in pace and aggression.

“He did not have a great defence, it is just that he was landing some 100 punches in a minute. Amit could not keep pace with him, which was a first because he usually sets the pace,” he said.

The 25-year-old definitely does and this morning’s result cannot undermine his record.

Panghal has been India’s most successful male boxer in the past four years, during which he became the country’s first world championships silver-medallist and Asian Games gold-medallist.

He has also won a medal every time he has taken the ring in the Asian Championships, including a gold.

Those achievements don’t come easy.

“But we tend to look at things in a black and white manner. A loss always hurts and this hurts, he is hurt too. The right approach would be to try and refocus, forget this and learn from mistakes but it would sound cliched to everyone right now.

“But that’s the way to go because we have a world championship coming up in a few months time,” Nieva said.
National head coach C A Kuttappa can foresee the barrage of criticism coming their way.

“We would have liked it to be better, none more than the boxers but it hasn’t been the case and we are disappointed. I can understand the criticism that will come and we accept that,” he said.

For Nieva, who joined the Indian camp in 2017, it is clearly a huge setback and he acknowledges that but he does not want to get into the talk on what the future holds in the middle of the campaign just yet.

“I have no idea what will happen. I can only say that we have tried our best,” he said.

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