Soon after Simranjeet Kaur bagged the silver medal in the 64kg weight category at the Asian Boxing Championship in Bangkok in April last year, the coaches decided to shift her down to the 60kg weight category as they thought that she would have a realistic chance of making it to the Tokyo Olympics.
There were two factors that worked in her favour. One, she was fearless inside the ring and had the positivity needed to take on the challenge. Secondly, her weight always hovered around the 62 kg mark even when she was competing in the higher weight category and that meant that she did not need any drastic measures to cut down weight apart ramping up her training to reduce body fat.
While that was the easier part, learning to compete in the lower weight category against swifter opponents was going to be a challenge and more so when her primary opponent was going to be the experienced Sarita Devi.
Simranjeet lost twice to the former Asian and World Champion in the space of few months and missed out on the World Championship berth and was even forced to spend over a week at home following a bout of typhoid but she never lost hope. She finally defeated Sarita Devi in the trials for the Olympic qualifiers and then justified the faith of her coaches by becoming the first woman boxer from Punjab to qualify for the Olympics at the Asian Qualifying Event in Amman, Jordan, last month.
“I had trained well before the qualifiers and I was confident of playing well. My first round opponent was a Kazakh boxer (Rimma Volossenko), who I had lost to the last time. But this time I was prepared well and the victory over her gave me a lot of confidence,” Simranjeet told Scroll.in from her home where she has been in self quarantine since returning from Amman and later the lockdown.
Simranjeet, who took up the sport at her mother’s insistence, had faced Volossenko in the opening round of the Tokyo Test event in October last year, soon after the bout of typhoid and had lost rather easily.
“I wasn’t really feeling well enough to play the Tokyo Test event. But that bout against the Kazakhstan player helped in the Olympic qualifiers as I could prepare better,” she said.
After that bout, the coaches worked especially on the way she began her bouts as Simranjeet was known to be a slow starter who would usually stay passive for most of the opening round.
Explaining the reason behind the change in strategy, coach Mohammad Ali Qamar said, “She used to play the first round rather slow. That affected the judges’ view as they would feel she wasn’t up to the mark. She would be very strong in next two but if you have lost the opening round 5:0 then it is always difficult to catch up and get the result.
“So we worked on her warm-up which allowed her to start attacking in the first round. She would get tired by the third round because of this change but she learned to manage,” he added.
The other area that the coaches worked on Simranjeet was to use her non-dominant left hand to judge the distance between herself and the opponent as boxers in the lower weight category are generally quicker and hence one has to time the punches far better.
These changes helped Simranjeet dominate world No 2 Namuun Monkhar in the quarter-finals, which also booked her Tokyo Olympics berth.
Speaking about the turn around after missing the world championship, Simranjeet gave credit to her coaches in the national camp and also former India coach B I Fernandes, who is now working with the Punjab Sports Institute for keeping her moral high.
“Whenever there is no camp, I train with Fernandes sir in Mohali and he has given me quite a few tips looking at the way I fight and that has helped me a lot,” said the 24-year-old from Chakar village.
She also worked a lot on her fitness before the Big Bout Boxing League and the experience of fighting in the league helped her prepare for the trials better.
Simranjeet now is now focused on maintaining her fitness till the camps resume. The coaches have given all the players a personalised training program to follow and the boxers have to send the coaches videos of the training at regular intervals to get further feedback.
In Simranjeet’s case, the coaches want her to focus on improving her explosive power while doing shadows and punching with the bag just like she does when she is sparring with other boxers as that will help maintain her levels in the final round in close bouts.
And just like Qamar, Simranjeet also feels that the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics would give her more time to prepare for the Games. “We had just about two months to prepare for the Games after the qualifiers if Tokyo Olympics was to be held in 2020. But now we will have time and I am right now just focusing on my fitness so that once the camp starts I am ready,” she added.
Ask her about the pressure of expectations that will only increase after she has booked an Olympic berth, Simranjeet admitted that staying on top was always the difficult part but she has managed things so far by only focusing on herself rather than worrying about the situation.