Feature

Amit Panghal stands up to the flyweight challenge

The Indian boxer is among the nation’s biggest medal contenders at the upcoming Olympics and seems to be a genuine star in the making.

By Rahul Venkat ·

Will Amit Panghal be one of the Indian boxers to shine at the 2020 Olympics?

His performances as the Asia Olympic qualifiers were perhaps not as eye catching as he might have hoped, but rest assured the flyweight is one of India's brightest hopes.

Currently ranked as the world number one in his class, it is beyond doubt that the 24-year old has all the qualities needed to stand on an Olympic podium.

The 24-year-old Indian boxer sealed his maiden Olympics berth with a split decision win in the quarter-final of the Olympic qualifier against Filipino Carlo Paalam, an opponent he has beaten twice before in major events.

Standing at just 5’3”, Indian boxer Amit Panghal may be one of the shorter competitors in his weight category (52kg), but he makes sure to pack more than a solid punch.

A push and then shove from a military sibling

Amit Panghal was first introduced to boxing by his elder brother, Ajay, who had aspirations to become a boxer himself and a little encouragement from his coach pushed him towards doing it full time.

“I think I was 11 or 12 years old when my elder brother Ajay Panghal got me into the sport. I initially did boxing only as a fitness routine but my coach Anil Dhankar told me that I could do well for the country in the future,” the Indian boxer reminisced in a chat with the Olympic Channel.

However, boxing gear and keeping up with his dietary requirements proved to be an expensive proposition. This is when Ajay Panghal stepped in to become the bedrock for his younger sibling.

“My brother became a havaldar (sergeant) in the Indian Army and spent a large part of his earnings in taking care of everything I needed,” Amit Panghal had told the Times of India. “He asked me not to worry about anything and just focus on the sport.”

Amit Panghal qualified for his maiden Olympics at Tokyo 2020

Catapulting into the big stage

Amit Panghal won the national championships in his debut attempt in 2017 as a 21-year-old and that put him in the spotlight for the first time. The year was to bring him more joy as he nabbed bronze at the Asian Championships in Tashkent.

However, 2018 was when the Indian boxer really came into his own. Amit Panghal won silver at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and then went on to win gold at the Asian Games.

In that final, he made a statement by beating Hasanboy Dusmatov, who had bagged a gold medal in Rio 2016, managing to also avenge his defeat to the Uzbekistan pugilist in the quarter-finals of the World Boxing Championships in 2017, thereby denying him a gold medal.

He followed it up with a gold medal at the 2019 Asian Championships and a historic silver medal at the World Championships, making him the first male Indian boxer to do so - before him, Shiva Thapa and Gaurav Bidhuri had managed bronze medals in 2015 and 2017.

The World Championships was made more memorable by Manish Kaushik, who won a bronze medal.

The Worlds silver and other results took him atop the International Olympic Committee (IOC) boxing task force’s world rankings in the 52kg, making him one of the favourites at the Asian Olympic qualifier in Amman, Jordan and though he did make it to the 2020 Olympics, the larger campaign was somewhat disappointing as he fell in the semi-finals to Hu Jianguan.

Fulfilling the Olympic medal dream

The motivation from coach Anil Dhankar to do well for his country is what drives Indian boxer Amit Panghal every day. “Whenever I wake up, I want to practice better to achieve more and make the nation proud,” he revealed.

And like any other professional sportsperson, the 24-year-old wants to bring home an Olympic medal, a feat managed by only two Indian boxers thus far - Vijender Singh at Beijing 2008 and Mary Kom at London 2012 - and he feels the nation can double that tally at the 2020 Olympics.

“I expect India to get two gold medals,” stated Amit Panghal. “We are confident because our training has been good, we have won medals in the past and will look to target the weaknesses of our opponents at the Olympics.”

“I want to repeat my performances in other events at the Olympics and I believe my journey as a boxer will begin only after I get that medal,” he says proudly.