"Two medals at this year's World Championships, one of our best-ever performances," says Indian boxing chief coach CA Kuttappa. "That was special," he adds, his voice has that slightest hint of pride.
And why not? The performances of Indian boxers over the last year or so are reason enough. From Amit Panghal to Manish Kaushik, from Kavinder Singh Bisht to Vikas Krishan, Indian pugilists have been consistently winning medals at international tournaments across the globe. However, the highlight was when the contingent returned with their best haul from a World Championships in September. Panghal's historic silver was the cherry on the top.
The coach, however, knows that the real tests are yet to come and there is nothing to be swayed away by. "Amit's performance at World C'ships was good but it could have been much better," Kuttappa concedes. "I have been working with him personally and I feel the results will only improve. We have been planning meticulously, strategising and most importantly, going to more and more competitions."
He goes on to explain how going to more competitions gives a boxer more exposure and new ground to test their mettle against unknown opponents, something that would only help in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
"The thing is the more competitions we go to, the better for us. The government and federation are supporting us all through. They are providing whatever we are asking for. Our planning is reaping benefits now only because of the reason that we are sending our boxers for different tournaments. They are getting that exposure and that is very important to grow and improve. Sparring in camps will only take you so far. But fighting it out against a formidable international boxer, that's where you will push yourself to be at your very best," Kuttappa says.
"The Olympic qualification tournament is next in February. The way we performed last time, if we can replicate that then at least five-six boxers can go for Tokyo," he adds, exuding confidence and faith on his pupils. He is quick to point out that the Asia-Oceania tournament in February will be the best chance for boxers to booke a spot for Tokyo. "The next qualification tournament — which will be held in May in Paris — will only be tougher."
Kuttappa, who himself won several National and international medals in his playing career, knows just how important exposure can be for a boxer. Having coached the likes of Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh, Shiva Thapa, Devendro Singh, Suranjoy Singh amongst others, the former Armyman knows just what it takes for someone to go on and make it big.
"When I decided to call it quits on my playing career — I felt that I could not grow any further — there was a major, Manoj Kumar who suggested that I take up coaching. So, I did a coaching diploma course in Patiala for one year. During that time I used to be around the national team. Akhil Kumar, Vijender were impressed with me and so they told the then chief coach GS Sandhu to include me in a national camp. That's how I got into the national setup. This was around 2006-07," Kuttappa recalls.
"Vijender, at that time, was not a world-class boxer, you know. He came to me with one request. 'I need you to focus completely on me', he said. So, I worked with him for two years and then he went on to make history."
On being asked how many medals Indian male boxers can bring back from Tokyo, Kuttappa pauses for a little while before saying. "I think they can bring back at least two medals from Tokyo. The likes of Amit Panghal, Manish Kaushik, Vikas Krishan, Kavinder are performing consistently over the last year or so and anyone can win gold on their day. We are hopeful, let's see," he signs off.