Vikas Krishan Yadav was always a confident man. Now, better still, he believes he’s prepared.
For the last year and a half, the Indian boxer has been on a journey of self-discovery and improvement. He’s changed the very foundation of his game, overhauled his lifestyle, given in to humility. Krishnan is giving himself every chance to improve, and triumph in his third, and what could possibly be his last, Olympic Games this July in Tokyo.
“I am sure I am going to win an Olympic gold,” he asserts during an interview with the Olympic Channel. “But the most important thing is I am the best prepared to get that Olympic gold.”
Rather than focusing on the goal, Yadav has intensely focused on the process this time. And it didn’t start with an agonizing defeat or an ecstatic win but a casual chat with his roommate in NIS Patiala, athlete to athlete.
“I was very undisciplined earlier. I would never eat on time, sleep on time, wouldn’t train on time. I was not doing the right things,” the 29-year-old says.
“When I entered the Olympic camp in 2019, I was staying with a wrestler, he taught me a lot. He told me how a wrestling world champion structures his day. He gets up an hour or 90 minutes ahead of the training. Then he does yoga, he goes into training 30 minutes before it’s supposed to start to get into the right frame of mind. So I also started doing those things.”
These are small, controllable things, but over time, they add up. Yadav also gleefully boasts that he hasn’t had a pizza for more than a year.
“Within limits, everyone enjoys junk food,” he says. “Everyone has cheat days, some people have it once a week others once in a month. But it’s been more than 18 months that I have had a pizza or any kind of junk food.
“I don’t eat outside food. I even get the wheat from home so I get the best quality flour. Whatever little changes I could make, and needed to make, I have. Diet, nutrition, recovery – I have my own theragun for recovery. I have the best quality gloves in the world, which no one in India has.”
He’s all in.
In March 2020, Yadav finished with a silver medal (69kg category) at the Asia & Oceania Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament. Rather than rejoice being the only the second boxer from India – after Vijender Singh-- to qualify for three Olympic Games, the Haryana-lad sat down with his coaches and asked him to pick holes in his game.
“I asked them to point out the mistakes. Asked them what are the things that are stopping me from getting the Olympic gold,” he recalls.
India's chief men's boxing coach CA Kuttappa, Indian boxing's High Performance Director Santiago Nieva and his personal coach Roland Simms from the USA all helped him identify the errors. He started working on his balance, defence and back-to-the-basics technique of straightening his knee while throwing the punch.
“I have been doing those techniques for the last 20 years. No one told me I was doing it wrong nor did I think of asking anyone if it was right,” he says.
“I hit hard with that technique also. But Roland told me, ‘look at the professional boxers, how they hit.’ Professionals are much better than us. So I changed my technique.”
It’s not as easy and snappy as Yadav makes it sound. Especially so late in an athlete’s career, when his game has already taken him to the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
“I have worked on it continuously, on a bag, while sparring, practice,” he says. “Whenever you make changes like these, they are difficult in the beginning. You have to keep resetting and focus. Eventually it isn’t tough anymore, it comes automatically. You build a muscle memory.
“If I want to retire as the first Olympic gold medalist in boxing from India, I have to go through those uncomfortable moments. Whatever it takes to get me there, I will do it.”
The first chance to test the new technique came at the Boxam International Tournament in Castellon, Spain in March this year. Competing in his first international tournament in almost a year, he defeated London Olympic Games bronze medalist Vicenzo Mangiacapre in the quarterfinals before claiming the silver.
“This tournament was a test for me,” the 29-year-old says. “The mistakes I made during the Olympic qualification tournament, I have been able to curb them about 70-75%. I haven’t made the same mistakes. So Boxam was a good learning experience for me.
“I have been working on my balance as well. In this tournament, I was imbalanced maybe once or twice, and that also was not as much as I usually was. I have worked a lot on it and am reaping the benefits. Beating an Olympic medalist is not an easy thing.”
Famous American basketball coach Bobby Knight once said, ‘The key is not the will to win... everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.’
Yadav, who believes he’s better prepared than the last two Olympics, would identify with that statement.
“It’s like if you go to war, you have a knife, a sword, a rifle, a cannon. You think you are invincible because you have the necessary weapons,” he says. “That’s how I feel. I am not afraid of anything that’s coming my way.”