The troika of Asian champion Pooja Rani (75kg), the seasoned Vikas Krishan (69kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) on Sunday became the first set of Indian boxers to qualify for this year's Tokyo Olympics by advancing to the semifinals of the continental qualifiers at Amman, Jordan. (More Sports News)
While fourth-seeded Rani notched up a facile 5-0 win over Thailand's Pornnipa Chutee, Krishan endured a tough one against third-seeded Japanese Sewonrets Okazawa before also prevailing in a unanimous verdict against the Asian silver-medallist.
In the evening session, two-time world bronze-winner and second seed Borgohain eased past Uzbekistan's Maftunakhon Melieva to enter the semifinals and secure an Olympic berth.
However, first-timer Sachin Kumar (81kg) went down in a split decision to China's national champion Daxaing Chen in his quarterfinal bout.
But he remains in the hunt for an Olympic berth if he can win the two-bout box-off between the losing quarterfinalists. The top five boxers in his category will get a spot in the Tokyo Games.
While Rani and Borgohain secured their maiden Olympic spots, Krishan will be making his third successive appearance at the quadrennial showpiece, scheduled in July-August.
"I had never fought against this girl before today and honestly, I was a bit scared. I had told my coaches about it before the bout. They instilled confidence in me and I could pull off a one-sided result. I am happy," said the 29-year-old Rani, who fought career-threatening shoulder and hand injuries before her gold at last year's Asian
Rani will next face the reigning world and Asian champion Li Qian of China, who has the top billing in the 75kg category. Qian had no trouble in beating Mongolia's Myagmarjargal Munkhbat 5-0 in the opening bout of the day.
Taking full advantage of her longer reach, Rani outpunched the inexperienced but determined Chutee. The Indian is a three-time Asian medallist besides being a bronze-winner at the 2014 Asian Games.
Krishan, however, had to slog hard against a brilliant boxer, whose performance was eye-catching despite the loss. Okazawa, a gold-winner at the Olympic Test Event last year, kept Krishan on his toes and his right jabs were particularly effective.
What worked for the Indian was the consistent straight punches to the body, which fetched him the bulk of the points.
Awaiting Krishan in the semifinals is second-seeded Ablaikhan Zhussupov of Kazakhstan, a two-time world bronze-medallist and a former Asian silver-winner. Zhussupov defeated Thailand's Wuttichai Masuk in a unanimous verdict.
Krishan is making a comeback in the amateur fold after taking the professional plunge following the 2016 Rio Olympics. He had an unbeaten run in the circuit before a back injury changed his plans.
Upon his return to the amateur boxing last year, he won a gold medal at the South Asian Games in December.
Later, Sachin was out-scored by Chen, a taller man who found his range after trailing in the opening round.
Using his telescopic range, Chen managed to connect some clean straights while Kumar paid dearly for holding back too much after dominating the first round.
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