Panghal, Thapa win on Indian boxers’ return to international competition – other sports

Eight months after their Olympic preparation came to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic, Indian boxers are back in the ring for an international competition, in France. Seven male boxers, including three who have qualified for the Olympics, featured in their first bout at the Alexis Vastine International Boxing Tournament in Nantes on Wednesday.

The Covid fear though looms large. With Europe hit by a second wave of infections, France is headed for another lockdown. The competition ends on Saturday and the organisers have decided to go ahead with it. A Boxing Federation of India official confirmed this. “It is a restricted lockdown. The tournament has not been impacted. The boxers will leave as soon it gets over,” the official said.

Amit Panghal (52kg) and Shiva Thapa (63kg) were the first to take the ring and won. Panghal said it was an odd feeling to compete after such a long gap. In fact, the boxers had their first sparring session only a week ago at the Olympic Centre in Assisi, Italy. Sparring was not allowed during the national camp in Patiala.

“It felt different facing an opponent. I was cautious. There was fear of injury. We don’t know how the body, the muscles will respond and the last thing you want now is an injury. All these things were in the mind,” said Panghal, who defeated Anthony Christopher Herrera of USA 2-1. “It was a good fight. My opponent was a power puncher. I had to defend well. I have worked on my reach and other technical things during training and it was very important to test myself in a competition. I will feel more confident after a few bouts,” he said.

Boxers from ten nations are participating in the first edition of the tournament started in memory of French boxer Alexis Vastine, the 2012 Olympics bronze medallist who died in a helicopter accident during the filming of a reality show in 2015.

“There is no crowd in the stands and rules are very strict. We can’t afford to venture out. It’s just hotel and training or competition venue,” says Panghal.

The boxer, who has been tested eight times so far, said he has adapted to the new normal of tests and bio-bubbles. In Italy too, they faced a scare when boxers from other countries tested positive.

“We got tested and resumed training. We have to wear the mask everywhere and always carry sanitiser. We can’t afford to take any risk. The experience of travel and competition is very different this time.”

The other winners were Thapa, who defeated Enrico Lacruze of France 2-1, and Ashish Kumar (75kg), who got the better of Marquis Johnson of USA 2-1. Sumit Sangwan (81kg) lost to Robby Gonzales of USA 2-1 and Satish Kumar (+91kg) was beaten 0-2 by Aliev Mourad of France.

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