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The Hindu
The Hindu
Uthra Ganesan

Asian Games 2023: Nikhat and Lovlina headline India’s challenge in the boxing ring

For a sport with widely held notions of strength and masculinity in popular culture, boxing in India has been headlined mainly by women in recent times.

As the sport with the fourth-highest medal count for India at the Asian Games, it has contributed 57 medals, but the inclusion of the women’s category in 2010 has seen the focus shifting to them.

Not surprisingly, India’s biggest hopes this time around too rest largely on the Nikhat Zareen-Lovlina Borgohain duo, both on a high after winning gold at the World Championships in March at home earlier this year. While Nikhat won her second gold, Lovlina added one to her burgeoning kitty that also includes an Olympic bronze. The two would be the biggest stars of the Indian challenge in Hangzhou.

Although that event was marked by abstention from the USA and most European countries in protest against allowing boxers from Belarus and Russia to participate, the Asian presence was in full strength and there are high expectations from both to go all the way in Hangzhou.

Among the men, the focus will be on Deepak Bhoria (51kg) and Nishant Dev (71kg), bronze medallists at the 2023 World Championships in Tashkent.

The other big name under the spotlight will be the experienced Shiva Thapa in the 63kg, who has not exactly been setting the ring on fire in the last few years but would be keen to add an elusive Asiad medal to his collection.

While Bhoria played second fiddle for long to Amit Panghal before moving ahead of the senior pro to be the first choice pugilist, Dev has battled injuries and surgeries over years to finally start living up to his potential.

India is fielding a 13-member contingent — seven men , six women — with a total of 34 Olympic slots up for grabs across weight categories in both genders.

Under the new IOC qualification guidelines, the Asian Games will serve as direct qualifiers with both male finalists in each category booking Olympic spots.

Among the women, barring 66kg and 75kg, which is also Lovlina’s event, all four semifinalists will qualify, making it easier for the Indians to add quotas.

In true Indian style, though, selection issues have marred actual preparations and while things have been largely straightforward among the women, controversies refuse to die down among the men with the new selection process — that has replaced one-off trials with continuous evaluation and assessment at the elite national camp for the top-three boxers in each weight category — coming in for criticism. Bhoria’s World Championship medal and the assessment process meant Panghal, gold medalist and one of only two for India in 2018, finished second on evaluation points.

Panghal has already moved court — along with Sagar Ahlawat (+92kg) and Rohit Mor (57kg) — but the feuding with the federation shows no signs of ending with the BFI late on Friday issuing show-cause notice to all three for leaving the national camp in Patiala on September 4, a day before leaving for China, without any intimation or permission. Interestingly, all three are currently with the squad in China at the moment. The only other Indian to win a medal in 2018, Vikas Krishan, is missing due to injury.

The Boxing Federation of India, for its part, did its best in getting the pugilists competition ready. The Indian pugilists were among the first to reach China and had a 17-day training camp in the city of Wuyishan.

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