Kolkata: The nine Indian boxers who have qualified for Tokyo Olympics have weathered many a storm to reach the threshold of the Games but Santiago Nieva, their battle-scarred High Performance Director, does not want to put any undue pressure on them by talking medals.
‘‘See, we have a strong team with nine qualified boxers and we certainly have chances of medals. They are an experienced lot and produced their best-ever results in the last World Championships. Olympics is special, hence sometimes you will see people with expectations go but come back empty-handed.
‘‘We are hopeful and positive that we will bring back something for India,’’ Nieva, former Sweden coach, said on the eve of the Indian contingent’s departure for Dubai for the Asian Boxing Championships on Friday. The Asian showpiece, which was originally supposed to have been held in New Delhi, was moved to Dubai and it was thanks to the intervention from the UAE government that they were cleared to make the trip for what would be the last international competition before Tokyo.
Apart from two-time Olympian Vikas Krishan (69 kg class), Tokyo will see the debut of pocket-sized Amit Panghal (52 kg), Manish Kaushik (63 kg), Ashish Kumar (75 kg) and Satish Kumar (91 kg). The women’s challenge is headlined by the much decorated Mary Kom (51 kg), for whom this is the second Olympics, Pooja Rani (75 kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69 kg) and Simranjit Kaur (60 kg).
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, Nieva said that the week-long Dubai event - scheduled to be held at the Grand Ballroom of Le Meridien Hotel - will help in testing the readiness of the Olympics-bound members as well as other members who were starved of international exposure due to cancellation or postponement of several events over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘‘Yes, it’s our last competition before Olympics and it also offers a chance in weights where other boxers didn’t have enough exposure. It may be too close before the Olympics, but we would like to have a good tournament. There are normally many strong countries but remember last time, we did our best,’’ Nieva, who had been a mentor figure to the squad since 2017, said.
Like any other Olympics-bound athletes across disciplines, the pugilists have had a tough time since the postponement of the Games an year back. Giving a huge thumbs-up to the character shown by his contingent of boxers, Nieva admitted it’s been a tough journey. ‘‘It’s been a huge blow. Nine of the boxers had qualified well in time and suddenly, the postponement was announced. Gradually, we picked ourselves up and the camp got going and we could also tour Europe. Many tournaments were cancelled in the meantime, but such a situation holds true for all the boxers,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the cancellation of the World Qualifiers in Paris last February put paid to the boxing community’s hopes of adding a few berths for Tokyo. ‘‘It was a huge blow to us as we certainly hoped that a few more boxers could qualify. We had three more spots..when the cancellation happened, it looked the event could have happened but now with the benefit of hindsight, it seemed the right decision,’’ he said.
The national camp, meanwhile, had to be disturbed once and shifted from the Indian capital to Pune with the onset of the second wave of the pandemic – but the Argentine felt the squad had taken it well in their stride. ‘‘It affected the schedule for a couple of weeks, but everybody kept their focus. The boys and girls kept training and now we have been training normally again for several weeks,’’ he noted.