Amit Panghal knows a thing or two about overcoming adversities. The 22-year-old was banned in 2012 for two years after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. Later, he appealed against the ban and brought it down to a year. His comeback after the ban was terrific as the Haryana boxer clinched gold medal in the 49kg category at the Asian Games, beating Olympic champion Hansanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan.
Post his triumph at the Asian Games, Panghal now faces a stiff challenge of making a successful jump to a higher weight category (52 kg) as his preferred 49 kg category is all set to get scrapped from the Tokyo Olympics.
"I already started training in the 52 kg category. It's definitely going to be tough for me because I did not do any planning for the new weight category. Now I have to watch the videos of boxers in the 52 kg category and try to identify their weakness and train accordingly," Panghal said to reporters on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year ruled that the women's categories would go up from three to five in a bid to promote gender parity in the sport. The addition in the women's category means removing two men's categories and bringing down the events from ten to eight. The 49 kg category, where Panghal is considered among top boxers in the world, is highly unlikely to feature in the next Olympic Games in Tokyo.
To jump to a higher weight category is no mean task and Panghal will have to make changes to strength and conditioning training.
"The major difference between both categories is the endurance levels. The height factors also come in as the 52 kg boxers will be taller and more powerful. I have to keep in mind these things and train. Initially, I prefer training in India with my coaches, but I would like to go abroad and complete rest of the training, focussing on the technical aspects," Panghal said, as he hinted at a visit to United States for training.
Panghal's style of counter-punching took his opponents by surprise both at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, with the boxer winning a silver in the latter event. When asked whether his trademark style will work under the new weight category, Panghal seemed a bit unsure, highlighting the greater height of boxers in the new category as an obstacle.
"Reach will be a problem if the boxer is tall and that's where I might face problems with my style of boxing. But counter-punching was sometimes successful even when I faced tall boxers in my category, so I'm hopeful that it will still work on my favour in the new category as well," Panghal said.
After returning to the sport after his ban, Panghal has been at his consistent best. He was disappointed to lose out on gold at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast but made amends by winning the top prize in Jakarta. In 2017, he won gold medal at the Grand Prix Usti Nad Labem tournament in the Czech Republic. In 2018, the boxer clinched gold medals in the India Open and the Strandja Memorial tournament in Bulgaria. Considering his form and success at the world level, it was little surprising that his name was missing from Arjuna Awards list.
"It would've been good if I had won the Arjuna Award. But I think it's because of seniority I missed the award this season. I'm sure my points are more since I have been performing well over last few years. Hopefully, I will win the award next year," he said.
Panghal, though, was very happy for his Services coach CA Kuttappa, who was recently conferred with the Dronacharya Award. "Kuttappa sir deserved the award. He worked with Vijender Singh, Shiva Thapa and Devendro Singh, and he also worked with me. His knowledge in boxing is immense and I take his advice seriously. Whenever I need his help, he's always there for me," Panghal said.
After his success at the Commonwealth Games, Panghal got offers from a top boxing promoting company to become a professional, but right now, he's fully focussed on winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
"Right now, I'm only concerned about Olympics. It's also my father's dream that I become an Olympian one day so that's where all my focus is at the moment," Panghal said without any hesitation.