Head coach CA Kuttappa and high-performance director Santiago Nieva will be in the corner for India’s male boxers at the Olympics. Boxer Amit Panghal, however, is on a quest to take his childhood coach Anil Dhankar to Tokyo as well.

On par with Amit Panghal’s consistency in the ring has been his constant support for childhood coach Anil Dhankar.

During the national awards season, the Asian Games gold medallist and Worlds finalist boxer campaigns non-stop for Dhankar. Last September, while training at the national camp in Patiala, Panghal credited Dhankar for keeping him sharp during the pandemic-induced lockdown — “The way I train with him, I don’t think I can match up to that even here,” he had said. Later, he managed to convince Boxing Federation of India (BFI) to allow Dhankar to join the national camp. Then he looked for corporate funding to pay Dhankar’s salary before Sports Authority of India stepped in.

The quest, now, is to take Dhankar along to Tokyo. Within minutes of his Asian Championships 52kg final loss last week, Panghal had tagged sports minister Kiren Rijiju in a tweet: “This silver medal is for my country’s youngsters and my coach Anil Dhankar. Wish he was here in Dubai at this moment. Kiren Rijiju sir, my only wish is that he is standing with me during the Tokyo medal ceremony”

Head coach CA Kuttappa and high-performance director Santiago Nieva will be in the corner for India’s male boxers at the Olympics. What difference could a personal coach make?

“It makes a whole lot of difference. Had he been there in Dubai… If he is there in Tokyo, it would have an extraordinary effect on me,” Panghal, who has been training with Dhankar since he was 12, tells The Indian Express. “From being able to execute all the quick movements to making changes according to the fight. It would be better if he’s there.”

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Panghal says he has asked the Indian Olympic Association for permission. Dhankar declines to comment on Panghal’s request — “the coaches are doing a great work with Amit. It’s a team effort” — but alludes to the difference he can make with his ward. “When you have been training together for such a long time, you know every little detail about each other. For example, whenever somebody is doing padwork with Amit, he can go on without getting tired for a long time. But I know how to push him to the absolute limits,” Dhankar laughs. “Mere ko pata hai ki isko thakana kaise hai (I know how to get him tired).”

Panghal expands upon the reasoning.

“He absolutely reads my movements, my skills. He knows my body and knows when to push, when to go all out and when to conserve energy and defend. He knows everything, no matter where I am. If I am training or actively sparring, he always knows what to say and what to point out,” says Panghal.

Usha-Nambiar example

PT Usha — Indian track and field great who won multiple medals at the Asian Games and Asian Championships and finished fourth at the 1984 Los Angeles Games — knows a thing or two about the importance of personal coaches. Along with the ‘Golden Girl’, her coach and mentor OM Nambiar too became a household name in the 1980s.

“I insisted Nambiar sir also travel with me (from the early 1980s) when I trained abroad and participated in international competitions. As far as I know, Nambiar sir was the first personal coach who travelled along with the athlete around the world,” Usha tells The Indian Express. “Nambiar sir groomed me from a young age and I was used to his training methods. If I had changed my coach before events, it would have been difficult and my performance would have dipped.”

Usha explains that a “personal coach knows when to push an athlete and how an athlete will react to a particular situation”.

“Apart from training methods, a personal coach also knows the emotional side of the athlete, which is very important. A personal coach is also invested in the athlete more than a team coach and that focus can make a big difference in winning medals,” she says.

“Moreover, a personal coach has a way to get the best out of an athlete. There is a personal bond which has developed over the years and there is also a comfort level which puts an athlete at ease.”

‘Theth Haryanvi’

The personal bond between Panghal and Dhankar often presents itself in their ‘theth Haryanvi’ chatter. “Same bhasha (language), same khaana (food). That’s why Amit’s comfort level is high with Anil sir,” says uncle Rajnarayan Panghal. “For us, he has never been Amit’s coach. He’s both a mentor and a parent.”

Hence, it’s no surprise Panghal wants his coach to be with him in Tokyo. “I will keep trying. It would be beneficial for me if he’s able to accompany me to the Olympics. I can say my performance would be much improved,” Panghal says. “Let’s see what happens. I have full faith.”

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