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COVID a Boon for Tokyo-Bound Athletes as it Gives Prep Time: Olympic Qualifier Boxer Ashish Kumar

Indian pugilist Ashish Kumar has spoken to Sputnik about his struggles during COVID-19, about constantly working on his weight and how boxing as a sport is a balance between power and mental strength.

Sputnik: COVID-19 made 2020 an unprecedented year because of the long break. How do you assess the preparations of the Indian boxing squad for the Tokyo Olympics coming back from that break?

Ashish Kumar: I could never think of such an unusual situation due to COVID-19. It's far from being an easy situation. The gap that happened, when I had to be home, was not good and I had an uncomfortable time as my training was quite affected. I was worried about the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. I was facing fitness issues due to weight problems in the gap months. I have qualified in the 75kg category and my weight had crossed this band. So, this was a worrying point.

In hindsight, the gap year may prove to be a blessing for Tokyo-bound athletes as all players have had more time to prepare. Everyone has the opportunity to play more tournaments, attend camps, and prepare better.

Every year India's boxing is improving, earlier we used to get one medal and then it increased to two and then early last year five Indian boxers qualified for the Asian Olympic qualifiers - and this feat happened for the first time.

Sputnik: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided to scrap the Olympic world qualifiers for boxing because of the challenges posed by COVID-19. How will this impact the Indian boxing squad?

Ashish Kumar: Nothing can be done about the scrapping of the Olympic world qualifiers. It is a big blow to the Indian boxing squad. Now, only 9 boxers will represent India. As a result of this decision, Indian pugilists in three categories 57 kg, 81 kg, and 91 kg could not qualify. Our players in these categories were strongest and it is unfortunate that they can't be part of the Indian Olympic boxing contingent. Fifty-seven kilos is one of the most competitive categories for Indian male pugilists and now everything depends on world ranking.

The 57 kg is India's strongest weight category and those affected due to the decision in this category include Commonwealth Games gold medalist Gaurav Solanki, 2017 world quarterfinalist Kavinder Bisht, 2017 World Championship bronze medallist Gaurav Bidhuri, and world silver medalist Sonia Chahal (women's 57kg).

Now 53 quota places (male and female quotas) will be allocated across Africa, the Americas, Asia/Oceania, and Europe, to the best ranked boxers, who have not yet qualified from these regions.

Sputnik: Boxing is not an easy sport. So, how tough do you have to be mentally for it?

Ashish Kumar: Yes, it is a tough sport and one has to perform with a lot of physical power and be mentally strong too. In fact, I would say that there should be a balance and coordination between the two. It takes courage, strength, and practice to perform well in the ring.

Sputnik: Are there any competitions that you will be participating in before the Olympics?

Ashish Kumar: The boxing team will travel to Spain next month as part of preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.

Sputnik: How is your fitness level? And what all are you doing to work on your fitness? Can you describe your diet and your fitness routine to us?

Ashish Kumar: Every week our special coaches draw up a new workout schedule to improve and maintain our fitness. They meet and decide what kind of fitness regime we should have, what new techniques we need to focus on, and how to improve our game. During the initial days at the training camp, I worked out with intensity to get into shape, now I am maintaining it and preparing and training for the Olympics.

Nutritionists decide our diet and whatever we get in the camp is very good. I broadly avoid ice creams, sweets, etc. due to weight problems but give in to the sweet cravings sometimes.

All of us follow the entire schedule. The days which are our "running days" we begin our schedule by 7 a.m. and on "strength training" day our activities begin at 9 a.m. We go to sleep at the latest by 10 p.m., sometimes even by 9 p.m. In the evening we have practice sessions from 4 p.m.

We get two days off in the middle of the week and one on Saturday at the training camp to rejuvenate ourselves.

Sputnik: Do you think it would be good if athletes were able to get the COVID-19 vaccine before the Olympics?

Ashish Kumar: The authorities know best. I do not have too much knowledge about COVID-19 vaccinations. So, I cannot say anything on that, whether athletes should get the jab before they leave for Olympics or not.

Sputnik: Before you, Indian boxers Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan used to fight in the 75kg category. Do you feel any kind of pressure carrying forward their legacy?

Ashish Kumar: No, I do not feel any kind of pressure. In fact, I feel that I have to perform like them or even better as I am representing India. There are many strong contenders in this category at the moment from different countries, but I am also quite strong. I do get nervous before entering the ring, but I do not get scared and I know that I will do well.

Sputnik: There was a time when you thought of quitting boxing. Is that true?

Ashish Kumar: Yes, I did think of quitting this sport after a string of poor performances in international tournaments and I thought maybe I am not cut out for boxing. This happened before 2015. However, my confidence got a boost and I thought otherwise after winning a silver medal at the 2019 Asian Championship.

Sputnik: Are there any fighters who inspire you a lot?

Ashish Kumar: I am very inspired by boxer Floyd Mayweather. I like his game a lot.

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