Jakarta: Amit Panghal’s destiny lay in Jakarta and what a way to achieve the historic boxing gold medal that added credibility to India’s medal collection as the armyman outlasted the reigning Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan in the light-fly class at the 18th Asian Games, here on Saturday.
India began the final day of medal hunt with 13 golds and just as Amit took the ring at the JI Expo centre came the news that India’s men’s pair team winning gold in Bridge.
Amit suddenly came under intense focus from the Indian fans who thronged the boxing arena, and the Commonwealth Games silver medallist left nothing unturned for the Uzbek to have any chance.
“I had lost to him before, so I had to take revenge. Coach Santiago (Nieva) and other coaches had prepared me well. In the semi-final, I did not play the first round well, here I did not repeat that mistake,” is how Amit described his win over the Asian champion.
“The coach asked me get him on counter-attack. The training in England and at the camp in India helped a lot. I had sparred with southpaw boxers at both places. I knew how to take advantage of the upper cut,” said Amit, who became only eighth Indian to win Asian Games boxing gold.
The 22-year-old Amit started the bout with a stunning approach landing punches on Dusmatov in a barrage during the 49-kg summit clash. The spilt 3-2 decision by the judges relieved Amit from the memories of the similar split verdict at the last year’s World championship in Hamburg.
The more facied Dusmatov had returned winner from world championship and all those losses were playing heavy on Amit’s mind and with one blowing punch the Indian gave boxing campaign just the kind of boost it was looking for.
India ended with one gold and a bronze medal, won by middleweight Vikas Krishan, who was forced to pull out of his semi-final bout due to nasty cut he received over his right eye during his quarterfinal.
He nonetheless achieved a first, becoming only boxer to win Asian Games medal at three successive Games-he had won a bronze in 2014 Incheon Games.
Vikas Krishan and Vijender Singh were the last Indian male gold medallists at Asian Games when they won in 2010 Guangzhou in the 60-kg and 75-kg weight classes.
Debutant Amit showed immense tactical brilliance, especially in defence to outmanoeuvre the Uzbek, who has an iconic status in international boxing and back home where he is a legend.
“We knew he is an explosive boxer, so we asked Amit to stay away from him. Amit had not played a great first round in his semi-final but today he was good, so he did not have to catch up and he connected his punches,” said Indian boxing’s High Performance Director and men’s chief coach Santiago Nieva.
“Dusmatov got tired towards the end and his punches did not have the strength. Amit was fast today. He had the first round, we knew he had the strength to pull it off. It can’t get bigger than this for him,” Nieva said adding two medals from boxing was not a bad collection given that most countries too ended up with as many medals.
Amit kept a steady distance and his range of shots clearly shocked Dusmatov. The Indian struck some clean right hooks and jabs to unsettle his shorter and slightly edgy southpaw opponent from Uzbekistan.
Dusmatov, who is known for his brilliant counter-attacks, seemed wary of the constantly-on-the-move Indian, who refused to fall into the trap of diving in.
The result was a frustrated Dusmatov being forced to lunge forward which worked perfectly well for the Indian’s own counter-attacking game.
“We had high expectations from Amit and also from others. The medals are 2-3 less than what we had expected. Nobody wants to go back with a bad result,” Nieva said when asked about the early exits of some other boxers.
Rise to top
Amit’s gold medal marked the highest point of his rise to the top, starting with an Asian Championships bronze in 2017. Earlier this year, he also won gold medals at the inaugural India Open and the prestigious Strandja memorial in Bulgaria.
In the 2014 Games, M C Mary Kom became the first and till now the only Indian woman boxer to fetch an Asian Games gold medal for India.
The first Indian boxer to claim an Asiad gold was Padam Bahadur Mall, who notched it back in 1962.
The legendary Hawa Singh is the only Indian boxer with back-to-back gold medals in the Games, his top finishes coming in 1966 and 1970 in the heavyweight category.