By last December, Manish Kaushik was physically ready to rejoin the camp after the surgery on his right bicep. But there was a mental block, and coaches CA Kuttappa and Santiago Nieva could sense the fear. The coaches had a sit-down with the 25-year-old, who opened up over the next few sparring sessions.
“The injury meant that I had a mental block in terms of international competition as well as fear of injuring the bicep again initially,” says the 25-year-old. “But once the coaches and I realised that I was playing without the fear, it was about executing the plans in Spain.”
The plans paid off as the light-welterweight boxer struck gold at the Boxam International Tournament in Spain in his return to competition in over a year. “To have wins against boxers like world number four Safiullin Zakir and other European boxers in Spain has put me in a perfect mental shape ahead of the Olympics,” Kaushik said.
In March last year, the Worlds bronze medallist had become the ninth Indian boxer to secure an Olympic quota at Jordan, where he scored a 4:1 win over CWG champion Harrison Garside of Australia. During the bout, the Haryana boxer suffered a right bicep injury after a hit from Garside’s elbow. A week after the contingent’s return to India, the nation-wide lockdown due to Covid-19 meant that Kaushik remained confined to his home at Devsar village near Bhiwani.
“Initially, I thought it was just swelling and played the bout against Garside with it as it was my chance to qualify for the Olympics. Under the lockdown, I could only do shadow boxing and fitness drills at home and when the swelling and pain did not subside, I informed the coaches and the bicep tear was diagnosed,” says Kaushik.
After three months at home, Kaushik’s injury was diagnosed in Mumbai by Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, who recommended immediate surgery. Weeks later, Kaushik shifted base to Army Sports Institute (ASI) at Pune, where he underwent rehabilitation under ASI staff, Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) and Sports Authority of India.
“Like any athlete, I faced some fear of operation and whether I will be able to make a comeback or not. Dr Pardiwala made sure that he had regular sessions with me and my physio Aalaap would regularly update him and coaches about the rehab process,” says Kaushik.
It was only in September that the boxer could return to training under national coach Subedar Jai Singh Patil. “The lockdown meant that Manish remained at home for more than three months and his weight increased from 62-63 Kg to close to 75 Kgs. During rehab, the focus was to let his body recover but once that happened, we reduced his fat intake,” says Patil.
While the fellow boxers and national coaches would train in Patiala or Bellary, coach Patil made sure that his ward remained positive under a strict lockdown in Pune.
“My family stays in Pune and I did not meet them even once during those four months as I did not want to let Manish stay alone,” says Patil. “We would make him watch the Rocky movies, gave him books on Muhammad Ali and talk about his old bouts. We knew that Manish could not spar so we made him punch against a Swiss ball against my stomach.”
Kaushik remembers keeping his mind busy to stay away from any negativity. “I had a session with sports psychologist Mugdha Bavare and she told me to visualise my boxing during the rehab and saw my old videos. I would also read the biography of Abhinav Bindra and ‘The Champions Mind’ to motivate myself,” says Kaushik.
And when Kaushik returned to the national camp, Kuttappa and high-performance director Nieva made him spar with lower weight boxers like Sachin Siwach and Kavinder Bisht and gradually against heavier boxers including Duryodhan Negi prior to the trip to Spain.
In Spain, Kaushik scored wins over the likes of world number four Kazakh Safiullin Zakir in the second round and later scoring a win over Nikolai Terteryan of Denmark in the final. Prior to the injury, Kaushik had faced the likes of two-time world champion Andy Cruz — whom he lost to in the semifinals of the world championships — 2018 Asian Championship silver medallist Baatarsukh Chinzorig — defeated at worlds and lost to in the Olympic qualifier — and two-time European medallist Enrico Lacruz.
Nieva rates Kaushik wins over Zakir and Terteryan highly and believes that Kaushik needs to work on some areas to have a better shot at the Olympics.
“Manish reminded his old self in Spain and I am glad about his progress. The win against Kazakh boxer, who was trying to impose himself, showed that Manish’s movement and long-distance punches were back to best. In the past, Manish has faced some problem in facing counter punch boxers like himself and the Danish boxer was of the same. But Manish matched him tactically and his combinations of punches helped him in the third round. A boxer like Cruz is a counter puncher boxer with more agility in the ring and Manish did match him in world championships. He needs to add some more variations to have success against boxers like Cruz or Bachkov and also to land more punches when they are in close range. The main challenge is to lead them to catch Manish instead of Manish catching them,” shares Nieva.
As for Manish, he still has to wait to enjoy the food as he did in lockdown. “I enjoyed some dishes but then I am sure my family has to make more dishes for me once I win an Olympic medal,” says Kaushik.