Blas Fernandez back as boxing High Performance Coach

Blas Fernandez back as boxing High Performance Coach. (Source X)

Blas Iglesias Fernandez, the Cuban coach that many credit with transforming India’s fortunes in the boxing ring, is back in the fray in time for the Paris Olympics. Fernandez, who first came to India back in 1990, was part of the coaching system that gave rise to Olympic medals for Vijender Singh (2008) and MC Mary Kom (2012).

Fernandez, the only foreign coach to be bestowed the Dronacharya Award, is now 68, but the Sports Authority of India (SAI) have given him a two-year contract as High Performance Coach. Fernandez will be based at the National Boxing Academy in Rohtak, Haryana.

 A SAI media release quoted him as saying that India could win “at least two medals” in Paris. And the boxer he has the greatest hopes from is Nikhat Zareen. “I love the boxing (style) of Nikhat,” said Fernandez. “She is very intelligent. She has good ring tactics. She knows when she is winning and when she is losing.

“This is Nikhat’s time to prove herself. It’s true that she had lived in the shadows of Mary Kom, but now it’s her chance to prove herself and make India proud.”

The other obvious medal hope is LovlinaBorgohain, winner of a bronze in Tokyo. She won World Championship gold in 2023, and a silver at the Hangzhou Asian Games. Fernandez, however, saw much room for improvement.

“Lovlina has to show more killer instinct,” he said. “I have seen some of her bouts and I think she lost them because Lovlina was not aggressive and proactive enough. If she can box to her potential, she can finish among the medals in Paris.”

Apart from Nikhat (50 kg) and Lovlina (75 kg), the other Indian women to have qualified for Paris are Preeti Pawar (54 kg) and Parveen Hooda (57 kg).

There isn’t as much optimism about the men, a generation on from Vijender’s path-breaking medal. The qualifier in Bangkok is from May 23 to June 3, and as many as 51 Paris quotas will be up for grabs overall.

“I reckon Nishant Dev and Amit Panghal can bag Paris quotas,” said Fernandez. “They both have the potential to do this. Men’s boxing is very tough and should not be compared with women’s where the competition is relatively easier. I will like to see Indian men breaking the Olympic jinx.”

Fernandez is a graduate of the legendary Cuban coaching system that produced boxers like Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon and Guillermo Rigondeaux. After the resignation of the Irishman Bernard Dunne, after an ill-fated stint as High Performance Director, this appointment could just be the shot in the arm that Indian boxing badly needs.

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