MC Mary Kom's "sparring partner", "father figure" to L Sarita Devi during her 2014 Asian Games meltdown, this year's Dronacharya awardee in boxing Sagar Mal Dayal has been a man with many roles in his 10-year coaching stint with India's women pugilists.
The 48-year-old little-known coach based in Jaipur will be conferred the honour at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on August 29 -- hockey wizard Dhyanchand's birth anniversary also celebrated as the National Sports Day.
Dayal, a boxer himself before becoming a coach in 1995, has been on the Indian Railways roster for more than 20 years and came on board the support staff of the national women's boxing team 10 years ago.
"I am thankful for this honour, especially to the women boxers, who thought I deserved it. I have worked with a lot of them, from Mary Kom to Pinki Rani (Commonwealth Games bronze-medallist)," Dayal told PTI in an interview.
He has largely been understated in his coaching career except for the infamous 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, where Sarita Devi hit the international headlines for refusing to accept her bronze medal after a controversial semifinal loss.
She had broken down immediately after the defeat to Jina Park, the local favourite, and had protested vehemently in front of the judges.
Dayal recalled how he had stood alongside Sarita at that moment, a claim acknowledged by the boxer herself.
"It was a sad episode, I admit I had also become very aggressive, to an extent abusive but such was the situation. I was her coach, the person responsible for women boxers there, I had to stand by her, I couldn't have left her. She is a very gentle girl," said the 1994 batch National Institute of Sports (NIS) coaching course topper.
Along with Sarita, who was banned for a year, Dayal also faced disciplinary charges but was eventually exonerated by the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
"I don't regret anything. It was my duty to support my boxer there. She was distraught and it was our responsibility to take care of her. When I saw her crying there in front of the judges, I felt how a father would feel for his daughter. It was an emotional moment," he remembered.
Speaking of his association with Mary Kom, Dayal said seeing the Manipuri win her fifth world title in 2010 remains a high point of his coaching career.
"That was without doubt one of the best moments for me. Besides being a coach, I have been her sparring partner as well, not just her, I have been a sparring partner to Sarita also," he said.
Like most in the fraternity, Dayal is also concerned about the state of boxing right now.
"I have no hesitation is saying that if we had a federation, both Mary and Sarita would have qualified for Rio Olympics. We have got to resolve this as soon as possible," he said.
"Right now, I am feeling very proud of the fact that my ward is also a Rajya Sabha MP," he added.