Boxing: With the world at their doorstep, India hope to find its feet

New Indian foreign boxing coach Dmitry Dmitruk had gone up against Indian boxers as a coach at the Rio Olympic Games as well as the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. He had visited India during the 2018 World Championships as part of Ireland’s team. He had even overseen sparring between boxers from both countries prior to major competitions in both Ireland and Italy. Therefore, when Bernard Dunne – who was part of the Irish setup and is now the Indian high-performance director – came calling, Dmitruk immediately took upon the assignment. He had seen India from close quarters, but he’d now be able to impact it in his own way.

Dmitruk was part of the Irish setup for 12 years, managing the national, junior and youth teams during that time. He helped Joe Ward bag two World Championship medals in 2015 and 2017 and was also in Grainne Walsh’s corner when she won the 2019 European Games bronze.

In India, his work will revolve around boxers’ technique; primarily, around their footwork as well as the entry to their attacking combinations. “In boxing, we say, ‘Show me your footwork and I’ll tell you what kind of boxer you are’. Sometimes, Indian boxers’ feet do not correlate with their hands. So, if the foot is left behind, they can’t continue their attack. Other than that, Indian boxers are very fast but start an attack without preparation. I’m trying to teach them how to hide their attack and start their attack at the opportune moment,” Dmitruk told The Indian Express.

He barely had the time to unpack his bags before the first bit of drama in Indian boxing landed at his doorstep. Three national champions were going to court because they weren’t selected for the Women’s World Boxing Championship that is set to be held in New Delhi from March 15 onwards. Their complaint: despite being national champions, they had not been selected. While the complaint did not gain any traction, it was one borne out of some of the changes that are already being implemented ahead of the road to the 2024 Paris Olympics for Indian boxing.

Trial and error

The team selection for these World Championships was not based on trials – as had been the case with former Indian high-performance director Santiago Nieva and coach Raffaele Bergamasco. Instead, sparring sessions, performances in training and in-competition performances were rewarded with a spot in the World Championship team.

But a bigger reason for not holding trials before the Worlds simply came down to the weight cuts. Most combat athletes go through gruelling weight cuts in order to fight in their weight category. Amateur boxing is no different and the decision to not hold trials was one that was taken to ensure that the boxer doesn’t lose the bout before stepping into the ring.

“Events like the World Championships are the main target while trials are a part of the structure. Boxers must make weight for the trials and then compete in competitions – it’s a big stress. We can hold trials for the World Championships, but when the actual competition happens, they would be exhausted,” said Dmitruk.

Part of that philosophy led to Lovlina Borgohain, the current 69-kg weight category Olympic bronze medallist, moving up a weight category to 75kg. The Paris Olympics will have six weight categories and Borgohain would have either had to switch to the 66kg category or the 75 kg. The decision was made to go up six kilos.

“In boxing, you have two fights – one with the weighing scales, and the other in the ring. You can win one, and lose the other – which we didn’t want to do. So we decided to build her up physically for the 75kg category.”

And results withstanding, the boxer herself seems to be happy with the move. At the World Boxing championship press conference in New Delhi, Borgohain felt that the footwork she had worked on in the 69kg category would help when she had to face a group of women who punched harder and had less of a height difference compared to her.

“75 is a weight category where the power punchers turn up. A lot of work goes into strength training. But I also hold an advantage in this weight category because my foot movement is a lot nimbler after having been in a lower weight category,” said Borgohain.

IOC to send observers

The International Olympic Committee will be sending observers to the Women’s Boxing World Championships in New Delhi, despite making it clear that the event was not being considered an Olympic qualifier.

“Well, the IOC has not granted (Olympic qualification to the Women’s World Championship yet). We have some hope. This could be deemed (as a) qualification event (later on). Nevertheless, it is a premier championship,” said Boxing Federation of India president Ajay Singh.

He then added that India will be keen to host an Olympic qualifying event. “If the IOC doesn’t give it the (Olympic qualification) status, India will certainly throw in the hat for getting an (Olympic qualification) event later on.”

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