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In a productive 2023 calendar, Indian women boxers, who secured four world titles, four Asian Games medals, and four Olympic quota places, fared better than their male counterparts and held promise in the Olympic year.

The women began in style, claiming four gold medals in the World Championships held in Delhi. Nikhat Zareen raised her profile by earning a second consecutive world crown, this time in the 50kg weight category, after her maiden title in 52kg in Istanbul in 2022. Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain reaffirmed her dominance in the heavier 75kg weight class by adding the World Championships gold to her Asian Championships crown.

Saweety Boora upgraded her silver medal from 2014 to complete a sensational performance from the host, while former world youth champion Nitu Ghangas pocketed her first World Championship gold medal in 48kg.

The Indian women showed their prowess once again, this time at the Asian Games, as they bagged a silver (Lovlina, 75 kg) and three bronze medals (Nikhat, 50 kg, Preeti Pawar, 54 kg, and Parveen Hooda, 57 kg). All four booked their tickets to the Paris Olympics as well.

Young Preeti impressed by registering some upset wins in the World Championships and followed it up with a medal in Hangzhou. Parveen, a 63kg bronze medallist in the 2022 World Championships, lost six kg to shine in a lighter weight.

Meanwhile, the Indian male boxers had a decent year. They won three bronze medals at the World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The promising duo of Deepak Bhoria (51kg), who lived up to his reputation of being a giant killer, and the young Nishant Dev (71kg), who beat a Cuban boxer in a World Championship — a rare occurrence for an Indian boxer — produced some spectacular performances. The experienced and technically sound Mohammad Hussamuddin (57kg) finally made his presence felt at the highest level by climbing the podium.

But the Indian men’s showing dipped in the Asian Games. Only Narender Berwal (+92kg) managed a bronze medal, while none could win an Olympic quota place.

Hussamuddin’s left knee injury at the World Championships was a big setback. Indian boxing lovers would hope for his timely recovery from the surgery and his return to form ahead of the Olympics, as the seasoned boxer is capable of securing a ticket to Paris.

As the sole focus in 2024 will be on qualifying for the Olympics and doing well there, efforts will be made to earn two remaining quota places in the women’s section and gather as many as possible in the men’s section.

In the Tokyo Olympics, India sent nine entries, and the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) would like to see at least a matching number of entries this time and a better showing than just one bronze medal.

Indian boxing in 2024: Searching for the Punchline in Paris Olympics

Racing against time: Mohammad Hussamuddin’s (57kg) left knee injury at the World Championships was a big setback. Indian boxing lovers would hope for his timely recovery ahead of Paris 2024. 
| Photo Credit:
IBA

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Racing against time: Mohammad Hussamuddin’s (57kg) left knee injury at the World Championships was a big setback. Indian boxing lovers would hope for his timely recovery ahead of Paris 2024. 
| Photo Credit:
IBA

Meanwhile, the much-debated assessment system, introduced by high-performance director Bernard Dunne in place of the old selection trials to pick boxers for big events, was under the scanner, with several boxers moving court. It is another matter that they did not get any favourable verdicts.

The new system, under which the boxers are assessed on several factors and put through an evaluation process over a few weeks, has given rise to a constant rivalry between some world-class boxers, including those who have switched to newer weights to stake their claim for the Olympics.

Amit Panghal, a former Worlds silver medallist, recently secured the gold medal at the National Championships, making a notable comeback. He aims to challenge Deepak in the 51kg category. In the 57kg category, Sachin Siwach poses a potential challenge for Hussamuddin, while the 71kg division may witness intriguing bouts between the talented national champion Akash Sangwan and Nishant. Established boxers like Shiva Thapa (63.5kg), a former Worlds medallist and two-time Olympian, and Sanjeet (92kg), a former Asian champion, also have the prospect of qualifying for the Paris Games.

The coaching staff is still sweating over the limited options in the 80kg weight class, which includes Olympian Ashish Kumar and national champion Lakshya Chahar. Chahar is currently nursing an injury.

It would be interesting to see if anyone can challenge Narender in +92kg, especially after Olympian Satish Kumar was beaten in the national championships in Shillong and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Sagar Ahlawat was knocked out (KO) in the final at the Meghalaya capital last month.

In the event of a KO or Referee Stops Contest (RSC), the ringside doctor is required to complete and sign a medical bout report. This report is then submitted to the Technical Delegate along with the doctor’s recommendations for the prescribed rest days and any necessary measures. Ahlawat has served his stipulated 30-day suspension and has returned to the camp.

In the women’s section, the rivalry between Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jaismine Lamboria and Olympian Simranjit Kaur (60 kg) has grown over the years. The contest between two former World youth champions — Arundhati Choudhary, who came down from 75kg, and Ankushita Boro — has become more intense in 66kg.

Indian boxers will get two chances, in World Qualification Tournaments 1 and 2, from February 29 to March 12 and May 23 to June 3, respectively, to win quota places for the Olympics.

The next six to eight months will see earnest preparations from the pugilists in search of rare Olympic glory.

As the qualification process is still ongoing, it’s premature to predict the difficulty of Indian boxers securing a medal in the Paris Olympics.

The participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the remaining two qualifying events could impact the odds, especially in weight categories where they excelled in the last World Championships.

Despite limited competition and some rustiness, boxers from these nations achieved notable success in the men’s and women’s World championships, securing a total of six (Russia 6) and four (Russia 3, Belarus 1) medals, respectively.

While lesser-known Russians claimed bronze in lighter weights, Olympic silver medallist Muslim Gadzhimagomedov (who claimed his second World title in heavyweight) impressed in the heavier categories for men. In the women’s event, Anastasiia Demurchian secured the light middleweight title, and Russians garnered more medals in heavier weights. If boxers from these two countries are allowed in the qualifiers, then it will be interesting to see how they fit into different Olympic weight classes and perform there.

In the backdrop of the turmoil in the International Boxing Association (IBA) due to its longstanding tussle with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over various issues related to governance and eventual termination, the BFI, with the help of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), has continued its boxing activities unabated. Overall, Indian boxers are getting fine exposure, including multi-nation camps and customised training. They need to get rid of their shortcomings and lift their game to strike it rich in the qualifiers as well as at the Olympics. Three Olympic bronze medals — Vijender Singh and Mary Kom’s historic podium finishes in 2008 and 2012, respectively, and Lovlina’s medal in 2021 — should motivate the Indian boxers.

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