"It hurt a little bit more because I belong to the armed forces," said Indian boxer Amit Panghal as he dedicated his gold medal at the prestigious Strandja Memorial Tournament to the CRPF personnel who lost their lives in the Pulwama terror attack.
The Asian Games gold-medallist claimed a second consecutive top finish at one of Europe's oldest boxing competitions when he out-punched Kazakhstan's Temirtas Zhussupov in the summit clash in Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday night. He was India's lone male boxer to grab a medal at the just-concluded edition.
Speaking to PTI on Wednesday, the 23-year-old Naib Subedar in the Indian Army said the Pulwama attack, which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel, was on his mind through the tournament. The deadly strike took place the day the Indian boxing team left for Sofia last week.
"Main khud army se hun, dard isliye thoda zyada tha (It hurt a little bit more because I belong to the armed forces). I was desperate for a medal because I wanted to dedicate it to the heroes who lost their lives in Pulwama," Panghal said over phone.
"This was my mindset the moment I got to know of the attack after landing here."
India finished with seven medals -- three gold, a silver and three bronze medals -- in Sofia. Among the women gold-winners, Nikhat Zareen (51kg) had also dedicated her medal to the slain CRPF men.
"I was in touch with my family members during the tournament and they also told me that I had to win a medal in honour of the Pulwama martyrs. I was doubly motivated by this thought," Panghal said.
The motivation did come in handy as Panghal battled weighty matters in the run-up to the main draw.
"Weight nahi aa raha tha yahaan thand ke kaaran (It was difficult to get the right weight because of the cold here). So, I went to bed hungry for a couple of days, trained the next morning to ensure that I was ready at the time of weigh-in on the day of draws," Panghal said.
"It was tough but worth every bit of the trouble because in the end, I could accomplish what I wanted," he added referring to the sub-zero temperatures in Sofia which made it difficult to shed weight.
Panghal's campaign looked effortless but the boxer from Rohtak said the competition he faced this time was certainly a notch higher than what he came across in the 2018 edition.
"...Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine fielded their strongest line-ups. This was not the case last time. The guy I fought in the final was the bronze-medallist from the Asian Games last year and had won in India during a World Series of Boxing bout," he said.
"I had not fought with him earlier as he was not in my half during the Asian Games but I knew I could do it," he added.
Speaking of weight and competition, Panghal revealed that Strandja was his last competition in the 49kg division.
"I have no choice but to jump to 52kg because 49kg is not there in the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020 and I can't afford to skip that," he said.
"This was my last competition in 49kg and I will be competing in the 52kg category if I am selected for the Asian Championships. It is going to be very tough for me because 49kg is a weight class that I am comfortable in," he explained.
Asked about the specific challenges that the transition would bring with it, Panghal said, "I am going to need a lot more power and it is not going to be easy but I am confident of making it happen."
The Asian Championships are scheduled to be held in April 19 to 27 in Bangkok, Thailand. In a first, the competition for both men and women will be held simultaneously.
"Amit will start his 52kg stint with a tournament in Germany which is round-robin so there is no pressure of a medal. We will see how it goes for him there and figure out," said national chief coach C A Kuttappa.