Being No. 1 feels great, will do everything to win Olympic medal: Boxer Amit Panghal

Amit Panghal, who was ranked world No. 1 by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) in the 52kg category last week, says “validation” and “recognition” of hard work are important for an athlete’s confidence. Panghal, the reigning Asian Games gold medallist, is amongst the nine Indian boxers — five men and four women — who have secured qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now postponed to next year due to Covid-19. He is one of India’s biggest medal hopes at the Games. The 24-year-old boxer from Haryana is currently at a quarantine facility near the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Patiala, eagerly waiting to resume training after a lengthy break. Excerpts from an interview with ET Sport:

Congratulations on being the No. 1 boxer in AIBA rankings. What does it mean to you to be world No. 1?

It’s a validation for the efforts put in by all including my brother in the early years, and my coaches, federation, SAI and the government who trusted me and my abilities.

As much as it feels good, it is also a responsibility to strive harder and continue to put my 100% in achieving the goals that I have set for myself. I am also grateful to all my fans who have supported me in all my ups and downs and I will do everything in my capacity to win a medal in Olympics.

Is being No. 1 an added pressure or extra motivation?

I am a kind of player who is never bogged down by pressure. The moment I step inside the ring, I have the ability to shut myself up and play my natural game. I have my own benchmark set. I expect to pull off the unexpected and a lot more from myself as I strive to be the best. So to answer your question, it is a motivation to do better and excel. As much as my opponents must be working hard to beat me, my focus will be to give more than 100 per cent and keep performing.

How seriously do you take rankings?

At a time when we have been away from active sports and dealing with the pandemic, mental well-being is of prime importance. I think at a time like this, the world No. 1 tag will do a lot in boosting confidence.

Encouragement and recognitions are always great. They help you to push yourself harder. A ranking boost is impetus enough to work harder, more than ever.

The virus has hampered everyone’s life. For sportspersons, there have been no competitions and no training. What did you do to stay active during the lockdown? Have you been able to access gym to maintain fitness?

These are unprecedented circumstances and the whole world is dealing with them for the last few months. As the world came to a standstill, so did our lives. But staying active was important for me and I did free-hand exercises twice a day at home. A senior friend, who is also my neighbour, has a functional gym with all the equipment. During the lockdown period, I used that facility to train. The programmes shared by our coaches addressed all the issues that I was facing. I have been especially working to gain more power and strength.

With manual sparring not allowed, how much will it affect boxing skills?

There is no compromise when it comes to our health, taking care of ourselves is the priority and rest can wait for now. As we do not have any tournaments now and we are returning from a long lay-off, we need to be careful with the amount of training we do right at the start. If we push ourselves excessively, it may cause injuries. In our sport, what is important is that we are at an optimum level when it comes to fitness and stamina. Also, maintaining individual weight is critical for a boxer.

A boxer never forgets the skills. It is just about training and working hard which we will eventually do when the atmosphere is safe and conducive for sparring and active training.

You were in great form before the lockdown. Then this long period of reduced training and lack of competition was imposed due to the virus. How difficult will it be to return to the same level of skill, fitness and, more importantly, form?

Of course, it was disappointing and nothing can match the feel of competition. But all these precautions are there all over the world for our own good and are necessary right now as we fight this virus. We looked at this period as an opportunity too, to train harder and work smarter to improve in areas where we were weaker. There has been no letdown in motivation and intensity over the past few months. Now, we will be training under the supervision of our coaches, so they can monitor us and help us get back to intensive training in a slow and a phased manner subject to the pandemic conditions and laid out protocols.

There was a lot of confusion around restarting of training in camps. Do you think things could have been handled in a better way?

Under these challenging circumstances everyone is trying to put their best efforts to bring us back into action and I am happy that we are soon to complete our quarantine and can start training in Patiala. I don’t think there is any confusion, everyone wants to provide a safe environment for us and that is an honest effort.

With thousands of new corona cases being reported every day, do you feel safe to be training at the camp?

We will be following all the protocols of social distancing and other guidelines. I believe the authorities have taken great measures to ensure our safety. I have full faith in the administration and, as individuals, we have to maintain our self-restraint to be safe.

With so many restrictions in training, what’s the point of a training camp?

Despite the understandable restrictions, the environment in a training camp is very motivating and hard to emulate elsewhere. The biggest positive is that our coaches can review us from close range and monitor us, which is very important.

There is so much negative news related to corona from around the world. Does it affect you?

It’s quite natural for all of us to be worried about the well-being of everyone but all of us need to stay positive and together to fight this virus.

Did you enjoy staying at home during the lockdown?

I’ve stayed away from home for long durations for so many years due to training and competitions. So it was refreshing to spend quality time with family after such a long time, have my favourite dishes cooked by my mother and the fun time with my nephew and nieces. I am all charged up and ready to fire now, and really looking forward to resume my training.

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