New Delhi, June 2: He is still a bit angry about that "unfair" loss in the finals but Olympic-bound Indian boxer Amit Panghal (52kg) on Wednesday (June 2) described his silver-winning performance at the Asian Championships as the best of his career so far.
The 25-year-old boxer from Haryana was the defending champion before he lost to old nemesis, Uzbekistan's reigning world and Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov in the final of the event in Dubai.
The result read 3-2 in favour of the Uzbek and the Indian team's protest, seeking a review of the bout's second round, was rejected by the jury.
"This is by far the best performance by me in the 52kg category. I should have won that final and I was angry when I did not," Panghal, the reigning Asian Games champion, told PTI in an interview.
"I had given it my all and I felt I deserved to win but it's ok, it can happen. It was still way better than the last time I lost to him. The score-line has narrowed down to 2-3, it was 0-5 earlier," he said referring to the world championship final loss to Zoirov in 2019.
"The contingent protested against the decision, we could have been a bit more forceful but it's ok, at least we tried," he said.
Proud of his performance he might be but Panghal said there are some chinks in the armour that he has figured and will iron out before the Olympics.
"I have improved but my third rounds can be better. I don't think I land enough scoring punches in the third round. I have improved enough to ensure that my first rounds start early, I used to hold back earlier," he elaborated.
Considered one of India's strongest bets for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Panghal's performance through the Asian Championships was quite compelling.
If his pace was eye-catching in the quarters, the semifinal win was a master-class in effective close range boxing.
A new-found ability to score through body shots while being held in clinches was another addition to his skill set.
"This was the first time, I tried that (punching during clinches)," Panghal said.
"It is something that my personal coach Anil Dhanker ji taught me. He told me that clinches should not be about stopping, that I should keep hitting. I had worked on this," he added.
Dhanker wasn't there in person in Dubai to guide Panghal at the event and the diminutive boxer said he missed his presence but what if his formative coach misses the Tokyo flight as well?
Will that have a bearing on how his performance shapes up at the Games?
"I will perform, I will give it my best but having him with me will certainly help me. That is my point. If he cannot be there, I will be in touch with him over phone and he will still guide me," he said.
In addition to the pressure of performance, athletes gearing up to Olympics this year are also dealing with the anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Panghal said he has his concerns too but they wouldn''t come in the way of what he does inside the ring.
"Practice mein to disruption hua hi hai (Our practice has been disrupted). Another fear that we face is that if we test positive and are put in quarantine, we would miss out on crucial training time. We cannot afford that now.
"And in case any of our sparring partners test positive, then also we will be at a loss. So yeah, that plays on my mind sometimes," he explained.
"When we had gone to Spain for a tournament earlier this year, I felt, I was not prepared at all," he said.
Panghal had lost in the quarters of that tournament in March.
But come Olympics, he promises to be at his best.
"Pehla Olympics bhi hai, saath mein COVID bhi hai (My first Olympics and this COVID is also there), let's see what happens but I intend to make it special," he signed off grinning widely.