Two of your protégés, Shiva Thapa and Sumit Sangwan, are in the headlines these days. How does that feel?
I am overjoyed. These two young pugilists have really made me proud. They came to me almost a year ago. They were well in the junior circuit and we had our eye on them for quite some time. I just pray to God these boys continue without injuries.
Did you expect them to perform so well in Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Astana?
Not really. We were aware of their potential. However, we did not expect them to do this well. Shiva defeated Syria’s Wessam Salamana, an Olympic silver medallist and Asian Games gold medallist. Sumit too beat Dzakhon Qurbanov of Tajikistan, the current Asian Boxing Championship gold medallist. Both were brilliant performances. What they achieved far surpassed our expectations.
How was it working with the two of them?
It is always easier to work with people who pick up fast. These two have been a real pleasure to work with. Both Shiva and Sumit are fantastic human beings. They are keen learners and constantly strive for perfection.
What is the complete daily training regiemen for them?
We do physical conditioning and work on their technique from 6 am to 7.30 am. In the afternoon, we have one boxer with one coach on an individual programme. And in the evening, we work on technique, tactics and strategy. Initially we give some psychological training as well. We just try to motivate them. The training in the evening is intense. We start with the warm-up followed by technical training. After that we go for the tactical training. The final phase is for conditioning like skipping, the punching bag and sometimes a run. Normally, we train for six to seven hours. A high volume, low intensity training programme is being followed now. After the first week of June we will start releasing the pressure. We want them to pick up again before the Games, maybe by July 25.
What are their strengths?
Shiva’s chief assets are his self-control, inherent aggression and the way he reacts to situations. Against Satoshi Shimizu in the semi-final, he was initially not able to control his opponent. Shimizu had an awkward style. In the second round, he went in with full confidence and used an array of carefully chosen array of punches and went on to win. Sumit’s biggest strong point is that he keeps his cool. He doesn’t give up easily. He is very calm and has a solid combination of punches. He also has very good footwork. This helps him to move back and come up fast. he has good height for his weight category.
What is the story behind Shiva Thapa’s promise to the Japanese boxer?
In 56 kg category, there was three spots. One each was for the gold and silver medallists and the third would go to the one who had been beaten by the gold medallist. Shiva defeated him in the qualifier. After defeating him, he hugged him and said “Don’t worry. You will go to the Olympics with us.” For that to happen, Shiva had to win the gold. When Shiva did win, the whole Japanese group rushed to him and hugged him. This was a fantastic gesture from Shiva.
What is your forecast for the Olympics?
That is very hard to say. The Olympics are the toughest stage. We should not put the boys under any pressure. Of course, we have expectations. They are good boxers capable of doing anything. We are not thinking of any medal. Our only focus is on putting up a strong performance.
What is the spirit in the Indian boxing camp?
It is really fantastic. This is the golden era of Indian boxing. In 2006, the Indian Boxing Federation made some changes and, with the help of the Sports Ministry, we took some steps that paid dividends. The media helped us a lot in this endeavour. Iin 2007, it was the media which first said that we could win a medal. The spirit caught on and gradually even the boxers began to hope for medals. We got success in 2008. Vijender Singh became the face of Indian boxing and Akhil Kumar also helped a lot to make boxing a popular game and since then hardly has there been a tournament where we didn’t show our mettle. The World Cup, World Championship, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games – everywhere we proved our potential and the sport of boxing kept on reaching new heights. Now well-off children tooe are opting for boxing as a career. Recently, some major dealers in sports goods called me up and congratulated me. They were happy that the sale of boxing gear has increased almost 60 to 70 percent.
So can we expect more Sumits and Shivas in the future?
Oh yes, surely. Vijender also came to us at the same age. London is his third Olympics. Vikas Krishnan also came as a junior world champion and he is now the world no. 2. Shiva and Sumit came to me inspired by them. Now they, in turn, will inspire others.