Encouraged by the Indian male boxers’ best-ever showing of three bronze medals in the recent World boxing championships in Tashkent, head coach C.A. Kuttappa is optimistic that his boys will earn three to four Olympic quota places at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September.
Kuttappa feels the newly-introduced selection policy based on an assessment and evaluation process helped the coaches pick the best side for the Tashkent event and will again enable them to select the most deserving boxers for Hangzhou.
The finalists in each of the seven weight categories (51kg, 57kg, 63.5kg, 71kg, 80kg, 92 kg, and +92kg) at the Asian Games will qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Technically and tactically we are number one, but we were not tough. But now we are giving tough fights. We are beating boxers from top countries like Kazakhstan and Cuba. Now the system is much better. After seeing our boxers’ performance at the World championships, I think we will have three to four boxers who will qualify for the Olympics from the Asian Games,” said Kuttappa.
Elaborating on the assessment system for the selection of boxers, which was prescribed by high-performance director Bernard Dunne and backed by foreign coach Dmitry Dmitruk, Kuttappa said, “You have to get out of your comfort zone. If assessment is happening, it is not only (about how someone is doing) technically and tactically during sparring, but also (it’s about) strength and conditioning, weight management, and health-management. We are taking them forward.
“Every day it is like a competition. From the time training starts till the end, it is a competition. You should do well and improve every day. You cannot be doing the same thing every day…if weight training has been given to you, then you have to do it. It’s not like you’ll do something else. You have to give 101%.
“I have been working with Shiva (Thapa) since 2011, but for the first time I saw him getting out of his comfort zone. I have never seen him working so hard. He won 3-2 but lost 4-3 following the bout review. You have to go forward and show that I am the best. That thinking should come from within.”
Apart from the assessment, Kuttappa said the presence of a psychologist through the World championships and a nutritionist (during the preparatory camp abroad) helped.
“We got to know that we don’t need to speak to all the boxers in the same way. The psychologist (Adrita Banerjee) told us how to speak to each one of them. Someone like Deepak (Bhoria) does not need anything to be told, while you have to tell Nishant (Dev) to get something done.
“The nutritionist’s role was good for weight management of the boxers as we mainly get beef and pork overseas and boys don’t eat well. Good that dal and other things were prepared for us in the team hotel.”
About the performance of the three medalists — Bhoria (51kg), Mohammad Hussamuddin (57 kg), and Nishant (71kg) — in Olympic weight classes, Kuttappa said, “Deepak had the capability to win the gold, but he lost the semifinal bout despite fighting so well.
“Unfortunately, Hussamuddin, one of the most hardworking boxers, injured his knee in the quarterfinals. Nishant did well to beat the Cuban and reach the semifinals.”
Bhoria was determined to make an impact on his return to international competition after recovering from a shoulder injury. “The way I trained made me confident,” said Bhoria.
Having secured bronze medals in the Commonwealth Games, Asian championships and World championships in a span of 10 months, Hussamuddin feels he is at the peak of his career.
“My game, including my footwork, feinting, and tactics, has improved a lot. My perseverance has paid off. My daughter (Haniya Firdous) has brought me good luck as I have performed well after her birth,” said Hussamuddin, while hoping to recover in time to be ready for the Asian Games selection process.
Having overcome a tough phase in his career, Nishant boxed without pressure this time. “I was very cool and relaxed as I came to the ring smiling and boxed well in every bout,” said Nishant.
Now, Kuttappa has shifted his focus to the Asian Games trials and assessment process, which is expected to pose some challenges for the coaches in the coming weeks.
“Keeping Paris 2024 in mind, some boxers will switch to Olympic weight classes for the Asian Games. It is going to be interesting,” said Kuttappa.