CHENNAI: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is on the horizon and the elite boxers from India have been digging deep to get into competition mode as quickly as possible.
Currently, in Castellon de la Plana, Spain, the pugilists including nine who are Tokyo-bound will look to demonstrate what they can offer during the 35th edition of the Boxam Elite International Boxing Tournament.
This tournament, scheduled from March 2 to 6, is not world-renowned but India can gain crucial insight heading into Tokyo. CA Kuttappa, India men's boxing chief coach, knows the significance of the competition, which will see a total of 127 boxers (14 Indians) from 17 different nations trade punches. Missing out on several competitions last year, the boxers and the coaches are hoping to gain as much experience as possible ahead of the Olympics.
"There are plenty of good boxers from top nations including Kazakhstan who'll be participating. It will be a good outing for us. We can find out our boxers' positives and negatives. After checking them out, we can analyse and prepare for the Olympics. This competition is crucial to evaluate and assess," Kuttappa told this newspaper from Castellon.
As many as 12 Indians, including six-time world champ MC Mary Kom, need just a win to secure a medal after finding themselves in the quarterfinals after the official draw on Tuesday. This will incidentally be Mary's first international competition after Asia/Oceania Olympic qualifiers last year.
Two-time Worlds medallist Lovlina Borgohain (69 kg), Simranjeet Kaur (60 kg), Pooja Rani (75 kg) are other Olympic-bound women who'll be in action. Amit Panghal (52 kg) and Vikas Krishan (69 kg) are other heavy-hitters who'll start their campaign from the quarterfinal stage. But both face potential banana skin in their draw. Amit will start against Spain's European Games winner Gabriel Escobar while Vikas could collide with two-time World Championships bronze medallist Ablaikhan Zhussupov in the semis.
"It will be a good test for Amit and we are confident of his abilities," Santiago Nieva, India men's high performance director, said. Kuttappa is wary of the threat that Zhussupov possesses but backed Vikas to use his experience and make a good impression.
"He has been doing very well during sparring. Let's see how it goes. The second fight could get tricky but it will be a good opportunity to assess Vikas' progress," the Dronacharya awardee noted. Irrespective of the outcome, Kuttappa is looking to ensure that the boxers can grab the opportunity to become a good all-round athlete.
"We are focussing on tactics. We want the boxers to be strong all-round. We want the boxers to go for face (punches) or go for the body. Some are good from short ranges while some are better at medium and long (ranges). Take the case of Vikas, he's good at long ranges. So, we want home to work on short ranges too. We want the boxers to be ready for any situation." Middleweight (75kg) Ashish Kumar, one among 12 who'll start from quarterfinal stage, is not short of ambition.
Applying Kuttappa's 'tactics', the 2019 Asian Championships silver medallist is looking to build on what he has picked up in recent months. "I want to beat everyone and bag a gold medal. My combination of punches has seen an improvement. Now, I'll look to solidify the technique that I have learnt in recent times," the 26-year-old said.
A gold for the likes of Ashish would be an ideal path ahead of the mother of all events in July.