India equal London record as eight boxers qualify for Tokyo Olympics

Nitin Sharma

Mary Kom after her 5-0 win against Irish Magno in Amman, Jordan.

India has matched its biggest Olympic boxing contingent when MC Mary Kom and Simranjit Singh made it eight pugilists on their way to Tokyo, the same number that went to London 2012.

Mary booked her ticket with a 5:0 win over Irish Magno of the Philippines in the 51Kg category at the Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualifiers in Amman, Jordan on Monday. Simranjit beat Namuun Monkhor of Mongolia by the same scoreline in the 60kg category.

Earlier in the day, world number one Amit Panghal had become the sixth Indian boxer to seal the Olympic quota with a split 4:1 decision over Carlo Paalam of the Philippines after five boxers bagged spots on Sunday. Mary will be returning to the Olympics after missing out on a berth in the 2016 Rio Games.

“It's an incredible feat from Mary Kom. She keeps rewriting history and the fact that she has qualified after missing the 2016 Olympics is really commendable and inspiring for other boxers. She took her time in the opening round but from the second round onwards, found her rhythm and landed cleaner punches. She is a legend and we all work hard for her so that she can win her second Olympic medal,” said Santiago Nieva, India's high performance director.

Out of the last six Olympics, India did not send more than five boxers in four Games but eight qualified in 2012 when women's boxing was introduced. In Rio 2016, India only had three boxers with Vikas Krishan (75 Kg), Shiva Thapa (56 Kg) and Manoj Kumar (64 Kg) making the cut, but returning empty-handed.

But four men and four women have so far qualified for Tokyo. Manish Kaushik (63 Kg) and Sachin Kumar can still earn spots to take the number into double figures. Kaushik has a box-off bout while Kumar has to go through two to secure an Olympic quota in the next two days.

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“Obviously it feels good to see eight boxers qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics so far and there are chances that we can earn two more quota places. We have to be happy about that but we want more. We had more chances here and we have another qualifier coming up in Paris. In this tournament, we have seen many good nations losing early and if we keep that in mind, having 8-9 quota places from here is a big thing for us,” Nieva said. “Also considering the number of Indian boxers at the Rio Olympics, it's a huge improvement for us. We want to make it the biggest team ever going to the Olympics and the focus will be on converting these quota places into medals.”

Tough bout for Panghal

Amit Panghal edged out Carlo Paalam of Philippines in a 4-1 split verdict.

On a day when two-time World Youth champion Sakshi Chaudhary and World Championship bronze medallist Manish Kaushik lost their bouts, Panghal booked a place in his first Olympics in the men's 52 Kg category.

At the World Championships in Russia last year too, Panghal had scored a 4:1 split verdict against the same opponent to secure his first Worlds medal. There Panghal has stated slowly with Paalam swinging more and making counter-attacks on Amit's advances in the opening round. The Haryana boxer had to rely upon his combinations and right punch to make a comeback.

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On Monday, Palaam kept coming back after Amit's combination of punches in the opening round and looked the more aggressive boxer in the first minute before Panghal relied on his accuracy and straight punches to take the first round with a split 3:2 verdict. While Panghal did not look very convincing in the second round even if he won the round with a split 4:1 verdict, the Haryana boxer was superior against a tired Paalam in the final round to complete another split 4:1 win and earn his ticket.

“I think Amit had a better performance than his previous bout. Paalam was more difficult to face this time as he started very aggressively. The main challenge for Amit was to maintain his composure against stronger opponents and he landed clear shots when Paalam opened himself up. Amit used his speed and elusiveness despite Palaam coming back again and again in the second round too. Amit was cleverer in the ring and landed counter-punches, which helped him. Palaam looked tired in the last round,” the Swede added.

With less than six months to go for the Tokyo Olympics, Nieva believes that Amit has his problems against shorter. “We have to work on his inside game against shorter opponents. When he scores from outside, he is doing well but he has been aiming too high and does not land punches with his knuckles against slightly taller opponents. We want him to land punches with his knuckles landing on the face or head and with more power. He is also getting a bit tired in the third round and we have to work on this area ahead of the Olympics.”