Turning Grief Into Gold, Boxer Amit Panghal Talks About ‘Knocking Out’ Failures
From a heartbreaking defeat in Olympics to a Commonwealth Games gold, the story of Amit Panghal's epic comeback
The Quint DAILY
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As the referee announced the winner of the men’s flyweight boxing event at the Commonwealth Games 2022, Hall 4 of the National Exhibition Centre in Solihull, England, saw mixed reactions from the crowd. The local fans were stunned and dumbfounded – their star boxer, Kiaran MacDonald, had just succumbed to defeat.
More than the result, it was the nature of the loss that left the fans stupefied as the pugilist from Sunderland barely posed any threat in the bout. Meanwhile, another section of fans erupted in joy.
The efficiently organised event saw a sudden surge in demand for Indian flags at the venue, with the few available ones being sold at a premium price. Every Indian fan wanted to drape the tricolour that was to rise to the highest spot during the upcoming medal ceremony as Amit Panghal had just defeated the Englishman 5-0 to win a gold medal.
From India’s perspective, the result was not entirely unexpected. Seven of the twelve boxers that India had sent for the event returned with medals, with three of them bagging gold. But Amit’s achievement isn't just yet another medal among the nation’s 22 gold medals from Birmingham, it is the result of incredibly indefatigable work that was needed to turn the worst of failures into the best of triumphs – something that only a few champion athletes of Amit’s calibre have been able to achieve.
It was only last year that the boxer from Haryana was eliminated from the Tokyo Olympics after losing his very first match. Speaking exclusively to The Quint on his comeback, Amit said “The post-Tokyo Olympics phase was very stressful for me. I had hit rock bottom, but thankfully, my coach helped me make a comeback. He used to say ‘Don’t let this defeat break you down. If not this time, you will win an Olympics medal in Paris.’ I must say, the credit for this comeback after the Tokyo failure should entirely go to my coach.”
Recollecting memories of his childhood, Amit said, “I honestly did not have any ambition of being a professional in this sport. My brother used to box and he just tagged me along to practice, just so that I remain physically active and healthy. It was my first coach, Anil Dhankar, who motivated me to become a boxer. My father was not too interested in this initially since I was a skinny kid and he feared I will suffer major injuries. But as I started improving, his perspective changed and he started supporting me in my journey.”
A silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a gold at the 2019 Asian Amateur Boxing Championships had already earned Amit global fame, but he has not been a stranger to professional setbacks. In the 2021 edition of the Asian Championships, he lost the final bout via what many considered a disputed decision.
But for Amit, harping on a possible misjudgement was never an option and he instead used it to motivate himself for the Commonwealth Games. “Certainly, it was a source of added motivation. Every medal I have won in my career made me more determined to do well. I was focused on the Commonwealth Games after the Asian Championships, trying to improve in my areas of weakness,” he said.
Winning Mental Battles & Physical Bouts: Amit’s Comeback Story
Following the Tokyo heartbreak, Amit was not seen in action for nearly a year, until the Thailand Open back in April. A long period of stagnation could prove to be detrimental to any athlete, from both sporting and financial perspectives.
However, the 26-year-old explained how it was not a phase of stagnation for him but a phase of development and consistent progress. “I spent that time to improve my game and get back in the right frame of mind again. All of my sponsors supported me during that phase and they are associated with me to date, and I am sure they will be with me in the future as well,” he asserted.
Despite what happened at the Olympics, Amit was a prime contender for the gold medal in his category at the Commonwealth Games 2022. One of the few issues that could have worked against him was emotional baggage from Tokyo, but he was determined not to let his past have any influence over his future.
Speaking about his preparation for CWG 2022, Amit said “I didn’t think of what happened in the Tokyo Olympics during the Commonwealth. I was determined to completely erase memories of Tokyo and remain optimistic throughout the competition.”
While he did well to win the mental battles, the pugilist also excelled in the technical aspects of the sport. A notable change in his technique was his aggressive gameplay in the final bout – something he was not particularly keen on trying during his formative boxing years.
On being asked about his strategy, Amit explained “I don’t have a set-in-stone style, it varies depending on the style of my opponent. I played a defensive game in my first few bouts, but in the gold medal match, I opted for a more aggressive approach because of my opponent’s style.”
“I knew it well that being a boxer from the host nation, he (Kiaran MacDonald) will have the home support and any mistake might prove to be fatal. So, my strategy was clear – to keep him under pressure from the very first round till the bout is over and I have the medal on my neck,” he further added.
How ‘Simple Lad’ Amit Keeps His Feet Grounded
Besides a shift in strategy, the eagle-eyed fans also noticed another aspect of Amit’s style – his muted celebrations. The boxer never looked too ecstatic after his wins, but he told The Quint that it was how he has always been.
“I have always been like this, I have never been too big on celebrations. I had a simple childhood, I have lived a simple life and I keep things simple on the ring as well. During a bout, I will to be laser-focused and give my absolute best, but once it ends, I am the same simple guy from Haryana.”
A gold at the Commonwealth Games might be the pinnacle of success for many athletes, but not for the boxer from Maina village in Rohtak district. He sees this as a stepping stone towards something much bigger that has evaded him previously, and he is set to leave no stone unturned for his next available opportunity – the Paris Olympics.
“The main objective now is to win a medal in the Paris Olympics, especially after what happened in Tokyo. My aim is to go into the competition with perfect preparation so that I can do the country proud,” the determined pugilist said.
When asked about if he has aspirations of being a professional boxer, Amit said, “I have not thought about competing in professional boxing yet. As I said, the main objective is to win an Olympics medal and make the nation proud at the biggest stage. I will not think of anything else until I achieve that.”
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