Boxing - Manish Kaushik
Manish Kaushik (right) feels Cuban opponent Andy Cruz could be his main challenger on way to a medal in Tokyo. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: While the Indian boxing contingent was trying to get some valuable practice in the Asian Championship in Dubai last week ahead of Tokyo Olympics, one of their medal hopefuls had to remain content by hitting the ring back home in Patiala. A bout of COVID-19, albeit asymptomatic, had laid him low and there was no choice for him but to skip the event.

‘‘I am fine now and back in training. Yes, it would have been good to play in Dubai as it was our last event before Tokyo but you have no control over certain things,’’ said an upbeat Kaushik from India, currently the world number five in 63 kg class. The 25-year-old Armyman underlined his credentials only recently when at the Boxam International Tournament in Spain in March, the light-welterweight boxer was the only one from India to win a gold.

The road to the final was not an easy one as before defeating Denmark’s Teteryan Nikolai by a 3-2 split decision, Kaushik got the better of Safiullin Zakir, then world number four. “He (Zakir) is a top boxer. It was a wonderful experience. This was my first competition after the qualifiers and to get gold and beat Zakir was fantastic. There was a lot of pressure. I was anxious to know how my body would react after the injury,’’ he said.


Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview over phone, Kaushik said the nine-member Indian contingent including himself who had qualified for Tokyo last year itself, are reasonably well-prepared for the Olympics despite the pandemic playing havoc with their schedule for over a year. “Previously, from each weight category, there would have been only one boxer who would be allowed to go abroad to train or play competition. It has now changed with the second, third, and sometimes even fourth-ranked boxers being sent abroad to train. That helped us a lot,’’ he said.

The World Qualifiers, scheduled in February in Paris, was cancelled at the last minute with the second wave of the pandemic in sight but Kaushik felt it didn’t make much difference to their plans. ‘‘Yes, it would have opened up opportunities for two to three other boxers for India but not the ones who had already qualified,’’ said Kaushik, who hails from the Bhiwani district of Haryana.

It had not been a easy ride for Kaushik as soon after the cancellation of Tokyo last year, he sustained a bicep tear and was out of action for a quite a few months. Crediting his coach Jai Singh Patil for putting him back on the road, he said: “My coach has helped me a lot. I watch a lot of videos of my opponents to analyze them. It helps me to know them better and predict what they can do during a match. I am working on my defence now as I think it would make me a more complete boxer.”

It’s no surprise that an aspirant boxer from Bhiwani will be an admirer of hometown hero Vijender Singh, India’s first Olympics medallist with a bronze in Beijing in 2008. ‘‘Vijender and M.C.Mary Kom are the two boxers who gave us self-belief that we too can dream of bringing Olympics medals,’’ he said.

Asked who could be his main opponent could be in the pursuit of a gold medal in his kg class in Tokyo, Kaushik singled out Andy Cruz of Cuba and Sofiane Oumiha of France. The road before him is a rocky one, but Kaushik seems game for the challenge.