World Championship medallists Amit Panghal and Manish Kaushik have been exempted from participating at the Senior National Boxing Championship to be held in Shimla from October 4 to 10. Panghal (52kg) became the first Indian male boxer to claim a silver medal at the World Championships, while Kaushik (63kg) returned with a bronze at the event which concluded in Ekaterinburg, Russia on Saturday. "We are not playing Nationals," Panghal told PTI during an interaction after returning from the World Championship on Monday. "The team that went for the World Championships is not playing at the Nationals. Since, it was a high level tournament, so we have been given rest," he added.
Confirming this, High-Performance Director Santiago Nieva said all but one boxer returning from the world championship will be allowed to skip the Nationals. "Ashish Kumar (75kg) is the only boxer to play at the Nationals. No other boxer from the World Championship team will play at the Nationals," he said. Asian Championships silver medallist Ashish had lost to China's Tuohetaerbieke Tanglatihan in a split 2-3 verdict in the second round at the tournament. An eight-member squad led by Panghal represented India at the World Championships. Duryodhan Singh Negi (69kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg), Brijesh Yadav (81kg), Sanjeet (91kg), and Satish Kumar (+91kg) were also part of the team which competed at the event.
"It is a great feeling to win this medal. Given the preparation that I had, I was confident that I won't return without a medal. No Indian boxer has gone beyond the bronze, so I wanted to do something different, change the colour of the medal," Panghal said. "I want to keep repeating what is working for me and keep improving on my weaknesses. I want to practice so much, put in so much effort in my training that I not only return with a medal but also change the colour of the medal at Tokyo," he added referring to bronze medal won by Vijender Singh back in 2008.
The world championships in Russia no longer have Olympic qualifier status after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the International Boxing Association (AIBA) from conducting the event in the 2020 Tokyo Games. "At least 3-4 of us would have qualified if World Championships were still the Olympic qualifiers. It would have been a big achievement. Now the Asian Olympic qualifiers is the next big tournament for us. All the focus will be on that," said Panghal.
The Olympic qualifiers will start in February next year with the Asia/Oceania zone qualifiers in China. "For us who are in the lower weight category, the level of competition at Asian qualifiers is same as world championships. Most of the Asian boxers win medal at the Olympics or World Championships. So it will be tough," Panghal said. "Of course, the World qualifiers will be tougher as US and European boxers will also participate."
Panghal, who had shifted to the 52kg category after a stellar run in the 49kg division, said he needs to work on his strength and power. "I will work on my strength and stamina. We will improve as we inch towards the qualifiers. We have to held on to our top form, we can't effort to let it slip a bit till the Olympics."
Talking about his next assignment, Panghal said: "I am participating at the World Military Games next month. Also I will compete at the Indian Boxing League. These competitions will help in our preparations for the qualifiers as we will get the chance of playing many world level boxers with different styles, different strategies and mental strength, so we it will only boost our performance."
Panghal emerged as the face of Indian boxing in the last few years after winning medals at the big events and he says it has been an unbelievable journey. "I never thought that in a few years, I would win medals in big events. It is not easy because in the past also I have been to World Championships, failed and even cried after missing out on a medal," he said. "In the initial days, I couldn't improve my performance despite training but things changed after the Asian Championship where I won bronze. It gave self confidence. It brought change in my game and life as well."
Panghal and his colleagues were given a warm welcome after they returned to the country early on Monday after the best-ever show at the World Championships. "It was quite overwhelming to see so many people come to welcome us. I had to stop a lot of my friends from coming to the airport," he said.