Indian boxing bets on Argentinian coach for Olympic glory

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Apr 29 (EFE).- The Indian boxing team is looking to make history at the Tokyo Olympics by winning at least one medal each in male and female categories under the guidance of its high-performance coach Santiago Nieva of Argentina.

“The goal is to obtain medals in both the men and women categories. So far, in the Indian history, there are only two medals. One in men in 2008 and one in women in 2012, which is Mary Kom who is set to take part in her second Olympic games,” Nieva told EFE from the training center in the northern Indian city of Patiala.

Nine Indian boxers, including four women, are aiming for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, set to kick off on July 23, despite lingering uncertainty due to the pandemic that led to the Games getting postponed last year.

Amit Panghal, gold medalist in the last World Cup, Manish Kaushik, bronze medalist in the same competition, Kom with six world titles under her belt, and a bronze at the London Olympic Games in 2012, are among the hopefuls for the Olympic glory.

“Those who have not won a medal are also among the hopefuls, but we know that the Olympic Games are tough, the boxers are going to be seeded with better ranking. But well, we have good chances,” said Nieva.

The center at Patiala is under a bio-secure bubble against the coronavirus, which has infected more than 17 million in India.

The male boxing team has been training there for a year, practically without any contact with the outside world.

The female team has been practicing at a center in New Delhi under the direct supervision of Italian coach Rafael Bergamasco.

Among them is Kom, 38, whom Nieva describes as a “legend” in India.

“She is like Maradona, an Indian ambassador in boxing and I think that to some extent she is also known outside boxing,” Nieva said.

Born in Argentina, Nieva emigrated with his family to Sweden at the age of five. He arrived in India after heading the Swedish youth team in 2008 and then serving as sports director for the national team.

He started his boxing career with his brother in Sweden before returning to Argentina to represent their country.

“We returned to the country, but after a couple of years I had a couple of injuries but I was motivated to keep competing and I always wanted to be a coach,” he said.

The road to the Olympics has not been easy, admitted the Argentinian, who arrived in the South Asian country in 2017 and felt at home “from day one.”

Nieva said the pandemic had affected everyone. “Some countries have been able to cope a little better and others are in a very complicated situation.”

The coach is content that despite the pandemic, the team managed to take a European tour between October and December.

They also participated in a tournament in the Spanish city of Castellon in March.

“We had several positive cases detected at a tournament in Turkey,” he said.

In Castellon, one of the boxers had tested positive.

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