New Delhi: The scene was serene; the setting tailor-made for the shutterbugs. Arms afloat and wearing a relieved smile of victory, Vikas Krishan, still testing waters in a new weight division, stood in the centre of the ring in Amman, bathing in arclights and basking in glory. The Indian had just outpunched Japan's Quincy Okazawa in a bruising bout and sealed an Olympic quota for the country. That was exactly a month back. A lot has changed since.
Lounging in his Bhiwani home with stray cattle in the backdrop and odd cackle of kids breaking the monotony, Vikas' active rest is a period of sustaining the optimism of that Amman evening and keeping himself in shape. His target, Vikas insists, is very much the same, albeit some reassessments and recalibrations are in order.
मैं आप सभी से निवेदन करता हूं कि आप अभी घर में है करोना वायरस की वजह से ! आप सब खिलाड़ी Jump pushups करे यह हमारी फिटनेस के लिए अच्छा है और इससे फिट इंडिया मूवमेंट को भी आगे बढ़ा सकते हैं @Media_SAI @KirenRijiju @BFI_official @manojarmysports @GoyatNeeraj pic.twitter.com/lE0l5yygwO
— Vikas Krishan Boxer (@officialvkyadav) March 26, 2020
"My aim is still the same. I want to win Olympic gold for the country," he announces.
"I was looking forward to the Olympics, but we understand that Coronavirus is a global epidemic and the Olympics can surely take a backseat. I am looking at the postponement as a positive. I have one more year to prepare and give it my best shot."
The Tokyo Games, of course, have been pushed back by a year and with the sporting world having come to a grinding standstill, there is no certainty as far as training camps and exposure trips go. Like a number of athletes, Vikas has been working out at home – primarily bodyweight exercises and spot-running to keep himself in optimum physical condition.
National coach of men's boxing team CA Kuttappa agrees that while home workouts and bodyweight exercises are a good way to keep boxers in decent shape, sparring sessions are where skills are built and chinks covered.
"This was supposed to be our rest period, so we are not really behind schedule as of now. But we don't know yet when can we resume training," Kuttappa said.
"Of course, given the health concerns, you can't train with partners. We have asked them not to spar, but they can do some strength training and running. Boxers are never at complete rest; when not competing, they are in a state of active rest. Hence, they must maintain their physique, strength and endurance."
The coach, in fact, has given training plans to the boxers and is monitoring their progress through video chats. The plans are customised, among other factors, on the basis of the training equipment each boxer has at home. Vikas has been told to work on his back muscles, and he is doing it with a few dumbbells and a skipping rope.
"I don't have a gym at my place. In fact, the kind of training we need, I don't think any boxer can have that many equipment at home. I am mostly doing bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups. For abs and core also, we don't have access to machines due to lockdown, so I do crunches.
"I don't have a punching bag at home either, so I ask my father to hold a punching pad so that I can rain my punches there. The idea is to maximise and optimise whatever I have got. We can't go out to run, so I do spot running. These exercises are not 100 percent effective for us, but there's nothing more we can do at home. I do share my shadow boxing videos with the coaches, and they give their feedback. Skill training, obviously, has taken a hit since we can't train with sparring partners. I am waiting for lockdown to end so that our preparations can resume."
Besides lack of proper training, a lesser-discussed fallout of coronavirus-induced lockdown is the factor of 'peaking'. Most athletes work towards their best form and physical condition in the months leading up to the Olympics. With the Games now postponed, the athletes have to 'peak' all over again and within a year.
Kuttappa concurs. "I think we were really peaking well, but that's the problem with everyone, not only with India," the Dronacharya-awardee says.
"You have to be positive, that's the only option. The postponement of Olympics came as a demoralising blow, but we know the gravity of the situation. We motivated the boys and they understand that they now have one more year to train. I talk to them every evening, and I can say that all of them are in a happy space."
For Vikas, the rescheduling of Games has come as a blessing in disguise. "I think the announcement for postponement came at the right time for me as I was still peaking. There are still about two months before the Olympics (as per the original schedule) and I was looking to peak in these months. Now with Games being pushed back, I'll have to reassess my process," the 28-year-old said.
Part of the process for him is a brief return to the professional circuit. Vikas, it must be recalled, dabbled in professional boxing for a year from late 2018, and after an unbeaten two-bout run, came back to represent India in the 69kg class and take his third shot at the elusive Olympic medal.
"I plan to get a few professional bouts under my belt before restarting my Olympics preparations. I have discussed it with the coaches and they are absolutely fine with it. The idea is not to go professional 100 percent. I am looking at a semi-professional kind of format with six rounds. I think that'll be ideal for my Olympics preparation," he says.
Now professional boxing may appear quite similar to the amateur format, but there is precious little in common. From training to technique to scoring to skills, there are more differences than similarities.
"Technique-wise, professional and amateur boxing are two completely different sports. Take football and hockey, for example. Both those sports are played on turf, but are completely different in nature. It's the same with pro and amateur boxing," says Vikas.
However, the most important difference lies in psychology – that indefinable variable that dictates the sweet science of boxing. Professional boxers are trained and conditioned to hurt their opponent, unlike an amateur pugilist who is more focussed on winning the points by impressing the judges.
"That's why you see almost 50 percent bouts are decided by knock-outs in professional boxing, while in amateur, the knock-out percentage is barely 3-4 percent," says Vikas. Quite naturally, he wants to bring the professional ruthlessness in the amateur ring.
"They call it professional boxing for a reason. They eat, sleep and drink boxing, and they do not hesitate in hurting you. They train thrice as hard as amateurs. When I returned to the amateur fold, my mindset had become like that too – I did not want anyone to stretch me to three rounds. I knew I will knock out these kids pretty easily. Now, after training for about six months, I feel that killer instinct has diluted a bit. I have begun to think like amateur boxers – how am I going to win instead of how am I going to knock the opponent out. To have that confidence and killer instinct is very important, and for that I'd like a few pro bouts before I restart my Olympic preparations," he explains.
Then, there is a small matter of technical evolution. Despite his obvious skills, Vikas was a fairly one-dimensional boxer before he went to US to pursue professional boxing. Not a big mover inside the ring, he would hold his guard up to block punches before dishing out some treatment of his own.
This approach brought him gold medals at the Asian and Commonwealth Games, but Vikas felt the need to innovate. It resulted in him bringing a new dimension to his solid defensive game, besides a better understanding of what he calls the very definition of boxing.
"My stint at pro boxing has helped me understand the basic definition of boxing, which is to save yourself from the opponent's punches and hit back hard. My earlier approach (of holding the guard up and blocking) was quite boring for me as well as for the spectators. Now I want to show the art of defence. I want to show how I will evade the punches instead of just holding up the guard. If I manage to do that, the spectators will go 'wow, this is what we want to see.'"
Vikas tried the trick at the Olympic qualifiers in Amman, and though he couldn't return with a gold, the Arjuna awardee rated his run at the Asian qualifiers as a "9 out of 10" performance. Vikas won a silver medal at the competition after pulling out of the final due to an eye injury.
"I am quite satisfied with my performance at the Qualifiers. I tried to evade the punches through movement in the ring. I tried to hit the opponent more. This is an extra facet that I am trying to bring to my game. If you want an Olympic gold, you can't win it with a regular style. You have to impress the judges too. So yeah, overall happy with my performance."
Coach Kuttappa believes Vikas also needs to work on his close-range punching, and the downtime will be used to iron out that possible chink.
"He is very good in long-range punching, but we need to work on his close and medium-range attacks. His jabs and power punches are great, but he is not using them in medium and close range. The time we have now, we will look to give him more competitions and work on these aspects of his game," he said.
Vikas' biggest learning from his professional stint, however, is a shift in mindset. "I believe I am the best in the world. You have to have that belief if you want to win an Olympic gold. Professional boxing has made me mentally tougher for sure."
Come July 2021, and Vikas will be gunning for gold in Tokyo. It may appear an overstatement, especially considering factors such as form and fitness, but his earnestness and quiet confidence are reassuring.
Vikas' past two forays at the quadrennial event didn't yield any medals, but they were not entirely disappointing either. At London in 2012, a 19-year-old Vikas won a close pre-quarter-final against USA's Errol Spence, but AIBA overturned the decision almost five hours after the bout on US' appeal.
Four years later in Rio, Vikas ran into the eventual silver medallist, Uzbekistan's Bektemir Melikuziev, in the quarter-final. A win there would have ensured him a medal, but it was not to be.
That loss in Rio still rankles, but Vikas is determined to channelise these disappointments into something unprecedented.
"When I look back at Rio, I can see there were some shortcomings in my game. I also feel that perhaps I fought in the higher weight category (75kg) than I should have and my training was not up to the mark either. So yes, these things still bother me. Small things could have made a huge difference. But it is never too late and my target at the Olympics is clear: I want to win gold and I will leave no stone unturned for it. I don't want to leave any room for kaash (what if).
"The country has given me so much. I get all the comforts and facilities I can imagine, so it is my duty to give something back to the nation. I have won gold at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, but the ultimate goal for every athlete is an Olympic gold and I want to win that for the country. That way, I'll repay me debt to the nation."
And so, armed with that belief and a punishing pro-amateur cycle to follow - plus the practice of throwing extra 2000 jabs at the end of every training session - Vikas Krishan pounds on, one jab at a time.
Updated Date: Apr 09, 2020 10:35:32 IST