New Delhi: Severely short of international exposure owing to the administrative mess, Indian boxers face the uphill task of ensuring not just medals but also World Championship berths when they take off tonight for what would be the "toughest" Asian Championships ever starting August 26 in Bangkok.
The Indians have had a stellar record in the continental showpiece, having finished second the last time around in 2013 with one gold, two silver and a bronze medal.
However, it isn't merely about medals this time.
Depending on the size of the draw in each category, only the medallists or the winners of probable box-offs would make the cut for the October World Championships in Doha -- the first qualifying event for next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"It is going to be the toughest Asian Championships ever. The participation is expected to be record because from here, the qualifiers for the World Championships would be decided. Although, it is not yet clear but probably only the medallists and box-off winners would be making the cut," national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu told PTI ahead of the team's departure.
Owing to the International Boxing Association's decision to block some Olympic quota places for winners of its semi-professional League -- the World Series of Boxing -- the World Championships in October will have very few qualifying slots on offer.
Previously, making the World Championships quarterfinals was suffice to book a berth in the Olympics but now, the slots could be as less as two in a given weight category.
So, the Indian boxers face the dual challenge of first qualifying for the World Championships through the Asian meet before targeting Olympic berths.
"It is not going to be easy but the boys are very positive. They are in good form and injury-free. If all goes well, we would be coming up with a good performance like always in the Asian Championships," said Sandhu.
Defending champion Shiva Thapa (56kg) and Commonwealth Games silver-medallists L Devendro Singh (49kg) and Mandeep Jangra (69kg) are among the best bets for medals in the tournament.
"My preparation has been as good as it always is. I am confident of a second gold. Obviously, this time, it is going to be tough like never before but as a competitor I can't be thinking about all that," said Shiva.
Both Mandeep and Devendro had won silver medals at the previous Asian meet as well.
"I have trained in Australia and Italy in the past few months and hopefully I would be able to deliver the results in the Asian Championships," said Mandeep.
Focus will also be on the 2009 World Championships bronze medallist Vikas Krishan, who would be competing in the middleweight 75kg category -- a slot which was owned by Vijender Singh before he turned professional a few weeks ago.
"I was recently in the UK to train for the Asian Championships and I am feeling very confident about my chances. As for competing in Vijender's category, I don't feel any pressure because if I play to my potential, I am going to better his performance and get a gold in the Olympics," said the Asian Games bronze-medallist.
Vikas, however, was candid enough to admit that the administrative logjam had hurt Indian boxers.
"We are tired of training with one another, there is hardly any exposure trip. It's been a year since we competed in a decent tournament. Obviously the situation is not ideal but we have to keep our focus," he said.
Not to be forgotten among the medal contenders is two-time bronze-medallist Manoj Kumar (64kg) -- a former Commonwealth Games gold-medallist.
Boxers: L Devendro Singh (49kg), Madan Lal (52kg), Shiva Thapa (56kg), Manish Kaushik (60kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg), Mandeep Jangra (69kg), Vikas Krishan (75kg), Kuldeep Singh (81kg), Manpreet Singh (91kg), Satish Kumar (+91kg).