It was a sort of tournament international athletes are getting used to. For Indian boxers, the Boxam International Tournament in Castellon, Spain produced highs in the ring and lows due to Covid. They won 10 medals—nine reached the final but four had to withdraw because of Covid protocols.
Ashish Kumar (75kg) tested positive a day before his final and had to withdraw. His roommates Mohammed Hussamuddin (57kg) and Sumit Sangwan (81kg) tested negative but were identified as close contacts and had to give a walkover in the final. Simranjit Kaur’s (60kg) opponent in the semi-final, Puerto Rican Kiria Tapia whom she beat 3-2, tested positive and she was asked to withdraw from her final bout against world championships bronze medallist Rashida Ellis of the US.
Ashish, who has no symptoms, has to be on a week’s quarantine in Spain before he can fly back home with a negative report. The rest, including Hussamuddin, Sangwan and Simranjit have all returned negative and taken their return flight. Satish Kumar (+91kg) was the fifth to pull out of the final, due of illness.
Seven of India’s nine Tokyo Olympics-bound boxers won medals, some of them beating world class boxers. Manish Kaushik (63kg) was the star as he made an impressive return from injury–tear in the biceps required surgery in May—and won gold in his first event after the tough recovery phase.
Olympic medallist MC Mary Kom, who returned to training only in January after a bout of dengue, won bronze.
“Our performance was excellent and it showed we are on the right track as far as Tokyo Olympics preparation is concerned. To have 10 of the 14 boxers in the medal round is a big achievement considering that there were countries like the US, Kazakhstan, Italy and Russia,” said India’s high performance director Santiago Nieva.
Besides Manish, those who packed a punch were Vikas Krishan in 69kg, who defeated 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Vicenzo Mangiacapre, and woman middleweight Pooja Rani, who upset world champion Atheyna Bylon.
India’s top hope and world championship silver medallist Amit Panghal had a rare finish outside medals. Panghal lost a close opening bout 2-3 to home favourite and European Games champion Gabriel Escobar Mascunano.
“Amit got a tough opponent, who was also competing at home which made it more difficult. He took too much time to find his range and rhythm. Amit showed his class in the last round. We have to see that it doesn’t happen in the Olympics and Amit can find his rhythm quickly,” Santiago said.
Manish was full of intent and control as he won his quarter-final bout 4-1 against Kazakhstan’s Safiullin Zakir, who has qualified for Tokyo Olympics. In the final, he overcame Denmark’s Nikolai Terteryan 3-2. Manish, who shot to fame with a world championship bronze in 2019, hurt his right arm during the Olympics qualifying tournament in Jordan in March last year. A surgery was performed only in May after the lockdown ended.
“Manish’s first three bouts, including against the strong Kazakh boxer, were an exhibition in boxing,” said Santiago. “Vikas performed against some tough competitors. In his final against Ndiaye Sissokho of Spain, Vikas scored some good body shots and tough punches in the last two rounds. It was a close bout.”
Women’s head coach Raffaele Bergamasco was also satisfied with the showing of his wards. World championships bronze medallist Lovlina was coming back, having missed the team’s last exposure tour in October after contracting Covid. She lost 5-0 to Russia’s Saadat Dalgatova in the first round. Mary Kom’s only win came against Italy’s Giordana Sorrentino (3-2) in her first bout.
“Lovlina got a strong competitor in the Russian and she was returning after Covid. It was important for her to get competition. She will improve. Mary was also returning after a long time but she had a very good win against the Italian,” Bergamasco said.
Pooja Rani lost 0-5 to world championships bronze medallist Naomi Graham of the US. “Pooja beat a very strong girl in the semi-final but could not concentrate in the final,” he said.
Bergamasco praised India’s new find, 57kg boxer Jasmine, who won silver in her first international competition. “She is very talented and was a surprise. She showed good control.”