New Delhi :The training-cum-competition trip to Cuba turned out to be rewarding for Indian boxers in more ways than one.
They did not just fetch a rich haul of eight silver and three bronze medals, the 13 boxers also got a chance to interact with three-time Olympic and six-time world champion -- the legendary Felix Savon Fabre.
The pugilists who touched down in the capital in the wee hours this morning after spending almost a fortnight in Cuba felt the trip made them psychologically stronger and gave them the confidence of being just as good as any top boxing nation in the world.
"There was a time the word Cuba meant intimidation but not anymore. They seem to be just like any other good boxing nation," said a beaming national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.
"The combined training helped our boys' morale. They are a lot more confident," added India's Cuban coach Blas Iglesias Fernandes.
Commonwealth champions Amandeep Singh (48kg), Suranjoy Singh (51kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg) and Dinesh Kumar were among those who made the finals of the six-team competition in which India finished second overall behind the hosts in Havana.
"Training and competing in Cuba is always good ahead of a big event. In this case, it was a build-up for the Commonwealth Games and we have come back menatlly tougher after training," said Commonwealth Games gold medallist Akhil Kumar (57kg).
The medals apart, Indians were also flaunting pictures taken with Savon, who was there at the Institute where they were training during the trip, and said the imposing former heavy weight boxer bowled them over with his down to earth persona.
"A man who has been a six-time world champion, a three-time Olympic champion, a living legend was so humble. It was just amazing to spend time with him. He even came with us during the bus journey from Havana to Guantanamo," said Akhil, who settled for a bronze in the tournament after deciding to give a walkover in the semifinals due to pain in his wrist.
Suranjoy, on the other hand, got a few tips from the over-six-feet-tall 42-year-old Cuban, who never took to professional boxing despite his stupendous success at the amateur level.
"Since I am not too tall, Felix told me to keep a close guard and work on my movement. It was very nice of him to spend time with us. We have grown up up watching him," said the Manipuri, whose loss in the final to a Cuban boxer was adjudged the best bout of the tournament.
Savon retired from international boxing after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where he won his third consecutive gold in the quadrennial extravaganza.
South Asian Games gold medallist Chhote Lal Yadav, who fetched a silver, felt the toughest part of the trip was all the travelling involved.
"Frankly training and competing there was not all that tough. The long journey that we endured was tougher," he said.
Dinesh, who travelled to Cuba for the first time in his career, said the trip has made him a better boxer.
"For the first time in my career, I competed against an Australian boxer and obviously fighting against a Cuban rival is always tough but ultimately it helpd your game. I liked my opponent's foot movement. I think I am a better boxer after this trip," said the 23-year-old, who settled for silver after getting a cut on his upper lip in the final.