In professional sport, coaches often tell their wards that there is a set formula to achieve success. The Indian boxing contingent, which impressed everyone at the Gold Coast, is no different.
The Indian boxers ended up winning three gold, three silver and three bronze medals. But it wasn’t just the medal haul that was impressive. Rather it was the style and the heart that the boxers displayed in the ring that won hearts all over the Gold Coast.
India’s boxers have clearly been allowed to embrace their own unique styles by a coaching setup that believes in enabling them to be the best versions of themselves. They have been coached well in the basics – that was evident from their approach in the ring – but they have been allowed to evolve on their own as well. It is a mix that often had the opponent’s punching just air.
Manish Kaushik, certainly India’s fastest-rising boxer in the last six months and one of the silver medallists, attributes his success to his speed.
It is that facet that helped him pull off a stunning win in the finals of the Nationals last year against the vastly experienced Shiva Thapa, whose trump card is his ability to pack a powerful punch. And it did the same for him at the Commonwealth Games too.
Kaushik has also attributed the inaugural India Open and the Srandja Memorial tournament in Bulgaria for aiding his progress.
“The federation helped us there. We practiced for 6-7 hours every day in the national camp in Patiala. The coaches [Santiago Nieva and Raffaele Bergamasco] paid close attention.
“When I was younger, I was not winning that many medals in state competitions but it gradually changed over the years. I earned my confidence only after playing international tournaments. Experience se hi power badhti hai.”
Experience was certainly a vital factor – one that saw him come back and fight even after being put down twice in the first round in his semi-final against Sri Lanka’s M Bandara. Knowing what to do in such a situation was vital. Kaushik wasn’t hassled after the down and calmly got back into his groove to win the bout.
Power and fitness
India’s Swedish boxing coach Santiago Nieva believes that small changes can trigger big transformations and one of the first changes he made to the system was introducing the boxers to different gym techniques.
Earlier, the techniques were not wrong but it was a little old school. But after Nieva, a three-star coach from the International Boxing Association’s (AIBA) coaches commission, took over in April, he decided a change of pace is in order.
He started off small. He called in the athletics and lifting coaches to help the campers.
It started with the warm-ups. Instead of long runs, Nieva preferred them doing short bursts with ample breaks. Think of it like boxing rounds. You get to rest in between. But then you have to go full power when the whistle blows. Great for building explosive strength in the legs.
The other big change was the change in gym work. Weightlifting techniques like snatch, bench press and deadlift were introduced to the regimen. The purpose of weight training for a fighter is two-fold: To improve power and explosiveness and to improve muscular endurance.
As for Indian boxing’s torchbearer in the last decade – Mary Kom – it is a question of will and being in the right shape ahead of the tournament.
“As long as I am training hard and my body is fit, I can beat anyone, bring it on,” Mary Kom had stated after her victorious return in the Asian Championships last year. “If I maintain the fitness levels, nobody can touch me,” the five-time World Champion added.
Quite a statement indeed. But what was clearly noticeable for Mary Kom was that her hand speed had not dropped at all despite her age. She was still being incredibly aggressive and throwing flurry after flurry of punches.
Having belief in one’s ability is one thing and to constantly keep working on technique and fitness is quite another. Mary won most of her bouts with a lot to spare and that holds a lot of promise ahead of the Asian Games, where she will face better opposition.
Things are looking up
Whether it was Nieva’s meticulous approach or the belief of the older lot in the boxing squad, things are looking up. The boxers always had good technique and heart but now, perhaps, they have the kind of guidance they need too.
A couple of Indian boxers could be counted as unlucky to not win gold or India might have been the most successful nation in the boxing arena too. There are also a few good boxers like world championship bronze medallist Gaurav Bhiduri, who didn’t make the squad due to injury, waiting in the wings.
Not so long ago, the boxing contingent was in the news for all the wrong reasons. But their current show raises the hope that India will soon be a force to reckon with in the big competitions as well.