Amit Panghal has stayed on the fringes of the national boxing team for the last one year. After his surprise first-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics, Panghal bounced back to win gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

After his surprise first-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics, Panghal bounced back to win gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games(PTI)

However, when it came to the two Olympic qualifiers – that included the Asian Games last year – Panghal was not the first choice boxer in the flyweight division. Deepak Bhoria had the upper hand – twice – in the selection assessment. Panghal even unsuccessfully challenged BFI’s new selection policy in court. As per that policy, boxers are now picked on the basis of various skills and fitness parameters in the national camp, and not in trials.

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Eventually, Bhoria’s failure to win the quota for the Paris Olympics in two successive meets forced the selectors to fall back on the experienced Panghal in the final Olympic qualifier in Bangkok. On Sunday, the 28-year-old made a big statement by winning the Olympic quota in 51kg with a thrilling come-from-behind quarterfinal win (5-0) against China’s Liu Chuang in the World Qualifiers.

India boxers have bagged six quotas for the Olympics
India boxers have bagged six quotas for the Olympics

Another Olympics berth came through Jaismine Lamboria in women’s 57kg. Jaismine comfortably beat Mali’s Marine Camara 5-0 and reclaimed the quota of Parveen Hooda, who was suspended for an anti-doping rule violation.

Sachin Siwach in men’s 57kg would consider himself unlucky to return without a quota. Having put up a brilliant show in the tournament, and up against Kyrgyzstan’s Munarbek Seiitbek Uul in the third-place quota bout, Sachin looked the better boxer. The judges however thought otherwise. India will now go to Paris with a squad of four women and two men. A record nine Indian boxers qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but only Lovlina Borgohain managed a medal – bronze in 69kg.

The going has been tough this time for Indian boxers, especially in men. No quota was won by them at the 2023 Asian Games and in the World Qualification Tournament in Italy in March. It resulted in India’s high performance director Bernard Dunne falling out with the federation (BFI), leading to his resignation. Hooda losing her quota due to whereabouts failure came as another setback.

Ahead of the final qualification meet, the men’s team was under immense pressure to deliver and win a few berths. Nishant Dev (71kg), the world championships bronze medallist, stepped up and qualified for the Olympics beating Moldova’s Vasile Cebotari in the quarterfinals on Friday.

It was then left to Panghal and Siwach to seal their quotas on Sunday. Panghal, one of the most decorated boxers in India with a world championships silver medal (2019) and Asian Games gold (2018), rose to the occasion.

Once a counter puncher, Panghal is now busier in the ring, taking the initiative to attack. On Sunday, Panghal was on fire after a tight first round where four judges went in favour of the Chinese. Panghal fought back in the second to unsettle Liu. The Haryana boxer repeatedly scored with his trademark overhand left shots. It led to an engaging contest in the final two rounds. Panghal was game when Liu decided to slug it out in the last two minutes, trading quick punches in the middle of the ring to emerge winner, giving India a second men’s quota.

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