Erasing obscurity


Erasing obscurity

India’s Hope: Virdhawal Khade has the potential to bag  more medals at international meets. AP

As the tricolour went up and the strains of the national anthem wafted through the air for only the second time at the 16th Asian Games, Ismail Baig quietly wiped his tears and looked up at the fluttering flag with a sense of great pride. Years of hard work had reached fruition for the national rowing coach and his emotional outpouring at that point was indeed understandable.

“Please put this at least in one corner of the front page,” Baig had requested just the previous day as India won two silver medals, their first in rowing at these Games. A day later, his star pupil had a given a moment to be imprinted in our minds forever.

Bajrang Lal Takhar’s gold medal in single sculls not only broke India’s barren spell in Guangzhou but it also marked the breakthrough performance for yet another sport at the Asian Games. As the expected medals failed to arrive from the other arenas, a mood of despondency was beginning to envelop the Indian contingent in Guangzhou.

But medals of lesser hue -- but no less significant -- from unexpected quarters kept despair at touching distance before the high tide of elation came sweeping from the International Rowing Centre.

After Pankaj Advani gave India a bright start with a gold medal in billiards, India had struggled to push up their tally, with shooters, their main medal hope, slumping badly after the high of the Commonwealth Games.

But Ashish Kumar in gymnastics, Virdhawal Khade in swimming and Sandhyarani Devi in wushu generated droplets of joy, bringing their sports to the forefront and underlining the fact that there is plenty of potential lying untapped and crying out for support in the country.

Indian gymnastics had made little impact on the continental scene till Guangzhou. Against the giants from China, Japan and South Korea, the Indians always cut a sorry figure but Ashish came as a whiff of fresh air, first at the Commonwealth Games and now at the Asian Games. With two medals in Delhi, he served notice of his potential and the Allahabad lad sprang another surprise, winning the bronze in floor exercise in Guangzhou.

“I think I can go much further than this,” said Ashish. “But for that, I need to compete more in World Cup competitions and push my ranking up,” added the 19-year-old. While credit goes to Allahabad coach U K Mishra for finding the spark in the boy, the real step forward came with the arrival of coach Vladimir Chertkov, who is the fall guy now after his early departure from China.

Khade’s, in contrast, is the tale of a supreme talent. Indian swimming needed a medal to give a boost to its quest for excellence and when he won the 50M butterfly bronze, that chance arrived in style. The Kolhapur teenager and his coach Nihar Ameen said their goals are much bigger but they can’t move forward without assistance from the authorities.

“He is intrinsically motivated. He knows why he is there and I know why I am there. But we need backing. The government should understand that the swimmers need support to go to the next level,” said Ameen while Khade expressed his fears about having to quit his sport for lack of money.

“I may have to do a rethink because I have to support my family at some point or the other,” said Khade who took a big risk by shifting from his hometown to Bangalore to pursue his swimming career.

The rowers have been winning one medal or the other at the Asian level but they realized the thrust a gold can give only on Friday. “Our rowers have come up with lot of good performances but we haven’t got any recognition. Hope this is a turnaround,” said Baig while the Rowing Federation of India officials forecast a gloomy future for their sport if the ills of the system weren’t rectified.

“The future of our sport is not bright,” said C P Singh Deo, the RFI president. “We need more talent to come in and it has to be broad-based. We cannot do it without government support. We need good equipment and the Sports Authority of India should reinforce their training centres. We have been requesting them to improve the facilities but they have not done anything.”

Arjuna awardee and former Asian Games bronze medallist R S Bhanwala, in Guangzhou as the government observer, admitted the sport needs more backing. “If we put a proper system in place, the sport has a bright future. We need more training centres to groom our rowers and our coaches have to be trained in the latest coaching methods,” he said.

Not pearls of wisdom but facts that can hardly be ignored if India has to cut its way through the mad rush of world sport. Guangzhou has lit up the way.

Can the government take the next step?

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