After serving her one-year ban, Asian Games bronze-medallist Laishram Sarita Devi will be seen in action once again as part of 13-strong Indian team for the training-cum-competition event in the Chinese city of Qian'an, which will serve as good preparation for the Olympics qualifiers ahead.
There aren't many sane voices in Indian boxing to speak on the country's chances at the Rio Games next year than chief coach Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu, who hopes the preparatory tour of China sets the tone.
"We are really happy that after a long time our team is going for a combined [men and women] training programme. China being the venue, [it's] going to be a good assessment for our boxers, with the Olympics in mind," the man who coached Vijender Singh to 2008 Beijing bronze told IBNLive in an interview.
"The Olympic qualification tournament will also be happening in China. This is a big positive for our boxers. They will get to acclimatise to the conditions. This experience is going to help our boxers in a big way. Around six teams are participating in the tournament, including China, which is good," Gurbaksh said.
The 10-day tournament will see the Indians boxing against competitors from China, Thailand, Mongolia, and Korea.
Qian'an, venue for the event that started December 1, will also host the Asian Olympic qualifiers from March 23 to April 3 next year.
The men's team features World Championships bronze-medallist and World No. 2 Shiva Thapa (56kg), Asian silver-medallist and World No. 7 Vikas Krishan (75kg) and Commonwealth Games silver-winners L Devendro Singh (49kg) and Mandeep Jangra (69kg) among others.
The women's challenge will be spearheaded by Sarita (60kg), who has made a return to the sport after being banned for a year. She had to sit out of the ring owing to her infamous emotional outburst at the Incheon Asian Games 2014, where she refused to accept her bronze medal after a controversial semi-final loss.
"Whatever happened in the past, we should forget and focus on future. This is what I have told her," Gurbaksh said when asked about Sarita coming out of a year-long ban. "She is positive and I am sure she will perform well. I am sure she will qualify for the Olympics and fight for a medal. She is a star boxer and will surely get an Olympic medal," said a confident coach.
"Indian boxing is very happy to see Sarita making a comeback after the gap of one year. I have seen that whenever a boxer has made a comeback after a long gap, he or she has performed. I am very confident about Sarita. She will make a solid comeback and stun everyone with her performance," Gurbaksh said.
Indian boxers haven't had many competing opportunities due to the country struggling to have a permanent body administering the sport - all that as a result of the political mess that plagues the sport in the country.
"Honestly, the long suspension on the Indian boxers is a great loss. If you are not playing a tournament, then obviously it affects the performance," the coach rued.
"In the world championships, Shiva Thapa got a bronze and Vikas Krishnan performed really well. So we are very positive. I believe, if 4 to 5 of our boys and 2 to 3 girls qualify, then we can definitely hope for at least two [Olympic] medals," he said.
But the coach said it won't be easy to qualify for the Rio Games.
"Honestly, Olympic qualifying is going to be very, very tough. And the team considered the toughest by everyone are the hosts. China has a strong boxing team. Competing with China in China is going to be tough. But the boxers will have a good experience in the [current preparatory] tournament. They will be aware of the conditions and the atmosphere ahead of the Olympic qualifying event. They will make mistakes and get to know their flaws. When they will be return to India, they can correct those [mistakes]. This tournament will be of great help for our boxers," the chief coach added.
Asian Games bronze-medallist Shiva Thapa fell short of booking an Olympic berth by a whisker and settled for a bronze medal at the World Boxing Championships but is a strong contender for winning an Olympic medal for the country. Shiva (56 kg) lost 1-2 to Uzbekistan's Asian silver-medallist Murodjon Akhmadaliev in a closely-contested bout. Though Vikas Krishnan didn’t win a medal, he impressed with his brilliant show in the same tournament.
"I have full confidence in both of them," said Gurbaksh. "Shiva would have done it in World Championships but he slipped there. [Then] Due to the suspension, our boxers suffered a lot. But our team is ready and will definitely qualify for the Olympics and win medals too," he reiterated to conclude.