Home Sports Amit Panghal’s Asian Games gold my proudest moment, says Santiago Nieva

Amit Panghal’s Asian Games gold my proudest moment, says Santiago Nieva

by thesquadron.in
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Santiago Nieva stepped down as high performance director of the Indian men’s boxing early this month, ending a five-year tenure. The Swede was instrumental in Indian men winning two medals at the 2019 world championships, while five boxers qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Nieva takes charge of the Australian men’s team in early June.

In this interview, Nieva opens up on his tenure with India, the systemic changes he sought to bring, the Tokyo debacle, and more.


How do you look back at your tenure?

It has been an unbelievable journey. What we have done in these five years is tremendous, not just in terms of sporting results but also in the systemic changes that we managed to bring about. I am very happy to leave Indian boxing in a better shape. Of course, there is always scope for improvement, but looking at the big picture I am satisfied.

What are the changes you brought in?

There are many components of the system, such as training quality, infrastructure, competitions, etc. I was fortunate to have a team that believed in improving in all those areas. Of course, there was already a system in place when I came, so I did not have to start from scratch. The key areas I worked on were introducing improvement and innovation in training, tactical analysis of our boxers and opponents, the training methodology, strength and conditioning, sports science, and so on. Also, we introduced some new competitions such as India Open and Fight Nights. We still lag behind the top nations, but we are on our way to getting better.

What was your best moment with India?

There are too many to mention. The Commonwealth Games 2018 were very special. However, if I were to pick one single moment, that would be Amit Panghal’s victory over Hasanboy Dusmatov in the Jakarta Asian Games final. It was magic. Even the success in some of the smaller competitions gave me a lot of enjoyment.

What led to India’s poor performance at the Tokyo Olympics?

You can look at Olympics in different ways. Our entire contingent of five men and four women made it to the quarter-finals, so we did something right. We were hoping for more medals in Tokyo, but the Olympics are the Olympics. It’s a stage where even the best flounder. You can’t let one bad result change your system. You have to look at the process, what was done right, what can be bettered, and what can you learn. Medals are won by those who have better systems. We need to continue improving the system and medals will follow. I am sure India will have an Olympic medallist in boxing in 2024.

There was criticism of the pre-Games training camp in Italy.

People have the habit of creating a parallel reality after the event has happened. Before Olympics, nobody said they didn’t want to travel to Italy. The only one who didn’t want to go, Mary Kom, stayed back. In the men’s camp, everyone was fine with it. Remember, we were in a Covid situation and there were not many international camps to choose from. The plan was to stay in Italy for three weeks, but once we reached there, our government told us not to come back to India. Even Mary Kom ended up in Italy later because there were no sparring partners for her in India. In Patiala, the boys were tired of sparring with the same guys every day. We couldn’t even get new Indian boys to spar due to the Covid situation. We also have to remember that Assisi in Italy is a major European training centre where a number of countries train. There were 10 other countries training in Italy alongside India, including Azerbaijan, France, and Colombia. It was not about Italy; it was about finding good sparring partners.

What memories do you take back after five years?

The whole experience is difficult to sum up. The relationship I shared with Indian boxers, coaches, and the boxing community will always be very special. I have only received love from boxers and I share a very healthy relationship with them. I leave the door open; maybe one day I come back. My years in India have been special. I have always believed in teamwork. There are hundreds of coaches involved in building a world-class boxer, and I owe my success to them. I was one of the important parts of the system, but the system cannot and should not stop for individuals. The more solid system you have, the less you depend on the individuals. I will follow Indian boxing wherever I am. I won’t be there with the team but I am sure there will be a lot of medals at the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.

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