India will win more than one Olympic medal in boxing - Former coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu
Dronacharya awardee and former boxing coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu believes that India will win more than one Olympic medal and make history
It was under his tutelage that Indian boxers delivered some unparalleled medal hauls and former national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu believes history will be re-written in Tokyo with the country winning more than one Olympic medal in boxing for the very first time.
To date, India has two medals in boxing -- the 2008 Beijing bronze from Vijender Singh and the 2012 London Games bronze from MC Mary Kom. Sandhu was the national men's coach in both editions. The 68-year-old Dronacharya awardee, who is now enjoying retired life in Patiala "running after grandchildren", spoke to PTI ahead of the upcoming Tokyo Games and predicted an extraordinary performance from the nine who have qualified.
The Games get underway on July 23. "I believe we will win more than one medal for the very first time in Tokyo and also the colour of the medals could be better than bronze. I have followed the progress of this group, I know them as well because I was still around when some of them came into the camp. It is going to be a history-making Olympics if all goes well," Sandhu said.
Sandhu was in charge of the Indian men's team for more than two decades and he also served as the women's head coach for just about a year before retiring in 2017. It was during his tenure that Vijender became India's first men's world championship medallist with a bronze in 2009.
During the fag end of his stint with the men, Sandhu saw current world no.1 flyweight Amit Panghal enter the camp. Panghal is being seen as a sure-shot medal for India at the Games based on his terrific form in the past two years, which have included a gold medal at the Asian Games, silver at the Commonwealth Games and an unprecedented silver in the world championships.
"I do know him, I won't say closely, but I have interacted with him. To me, he came across as strong-willed and fearless. Also, he is naturally very talented," Sandhu said. He, however, does not believe in picking favourites.
To him, each of the five men and four women in Tokyo is in with a strong chance of finishing on the podium. And he wants to talk more about their strengths then dwell on the chinks in their armours.
"I will not reveal my choice, I know who could be the medal-winners but I won't add to their stress by taking names. Because if you take names then you are adding to the pressure on them, and being a former coach, I know how it affects them," he said. "The ones who are not talked about can take negatively. They might feel demoralized. It is not fair. They have all qualified through a tough system and deserve equal respect," he explained his point of view.
Apart from Panghal, six-time world champion MC Mary Kom (51kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) are being seen as strong contenders for medals. Vijender's medal in Beijing was a catalyst for growth in Indian boxing.
Sandhu agrees with the assessment but he also feels that the confidence seen in the boxers of today is a notch higher, a result of relentless competitive exposure.
"Definitely Beijing was a fresh start but what is important is that the momentum was sustained. And you look at the boxers now, they seem to have strong minds, they talk about podiums with a belief which cannot be faked," he said.
"It is not empty talk, I can't recall them coming back empty-handed from any tournament in the last couple of years. That gives you genuine self-belief," he added. The boxers did draw a blank in the 2016 Rio Olympics though and Sandhu was in charge of the team at that time.
"I am 100 percent sure that Tokyo will heal the pain of Rio. It was a very disappointing Games but this time, it is going to be different," he said. "Training has been very well looked after. Coaches have worked hard. The announcement of prize money by so many state governments also adds to the motivation. "Everything that has been demanded has been taken care of and now it is the athletes' turn to give back," he added.
Sandhu also spoke about the emotional roller-coaster that coaches endure during the Games along with the under-pressure athletes.
"One of the most important memories of my Beijing experience was Akhil Kumar, he defeated world champion Sergey Vodopyanov in the last-16. Nobody expected that. That was one performance you can never forget," he recalled.
"The night before that bout, I was struggling to sleep. So I was just pacing up and down in the corridor. I think Akhil noticed it, he just opened his room for a moment and said 'sir aap aaram se so jao, iss wale ko to main pucca marunga'," he laughed.
"And he did it and what a performance it was. After that win, everybody had told us, you've got a gold-medallist in your team. But he lost in the quarters and it was a big, big jolt for us. I still think about it," he remembered explaining how emotions ebb and flow during the Games.