India’s stupendous success in Asian Games kabaddi was powered by the strong presence of a trio from Karnataka — Jeeva Kumar, Mamtha Poojari and Tejaswini Bai. The threesome played key roles as the country made a glittering presence atop the podium in Guangzhou.
The men’s team recorded their sixth successive triumph while the women made their Games debut memorable by clinching the gold in convincing fashion. India’s record tells the story of their dominance as they are yet to lose a match in Asian Games ever since the sport was introduced in the programme at the 1990 Beijing Games.
Rakesh Kumar’s men outclassed Iran 37-20 to defend the men’s title while the eves, led by Tejaswini, outplayed Thailand 28-14 in the summit clash. “Winning the gold was one of my dreams when I started playing kabaddi at my village in Kanyakumari some twelve years ago,” said Jeeva.
Helped by former international and Arjuna award winner B C Ramesh, the 29-year-old Jeeva shifted base to Bangalore four years ago with an eye on getting better training. “That was the turning point in my career,” said Jeeva.
“I was playing for Tamil Nadu in the Hyderabad Nationals in 2006 where we beat Karnataka team which included Ramesh sir. Impressed with my performance, he (Ramesh) gave me an offer which I accepted. The reason being that I would be getting good training and also a job which was vital for my survival in the sport at that time,” added Jeeva, who is employed with State Bank of Mysore as a computer operator.
Jeeva had a difficult childhood as his father, N Sivachandreshwaren, a farmer, and mother Annathangam, a housewife, struggled to make the ends meet. “I somehow managed to stay in the sport I loved the most,” Jeeva said.
There was more success in store for the country in the women’s section, with the national team towering above their rivals. Mamtha was also adjudged the best raider award from Guangzhou, doubling India’s joy.
“It gives me immense satisfaction that I contributed to the team’s success,” said Mamtha, who hails from Udupi.
For Mamtha and Tejaswini it was an experience of a life-time.
“We were lucky that women’s kabaddi was included in the Asian Games for the first time. Winning gold was one of the happiest moments of my life. I didn’t expect to reach this level. I couldn’t believe that I won an Asian Games gold,” said Tejaswini, echoing the feelings of Mamtha.
Mamtha and Tejaswini are employed with Indian Railways as senior clerks at Secunderabad and after their good performance they are set to get promoted as office superintendents.
Tejaswini cited hard work and good training as the reasons behind the team’s success.
“We were confident of winning the gold. Because we got good training and we also worked hard for two years. But we never took things for granted in the competition. We had a tough match against Iran in the semifinals but the final against Thailand was pretty easy,” added the Bangalorean.
Accolades and rewards after the Asian Games have brought about plenty of changes to the lives of these three players. “We got a chance to meet the Prime Minister and our President which I think wouldn’t have possible otherwise. We got a boost in our employment, received cash awards from Central government and our employees. We are getting the attention we never had before,” said Tejaswini, a gold medallist at this year’s SAF Games in Dhaka.
A regular in the national squad, Mamtha had won the titles at the 2006 Colombo SAF Games besides the Asian Championships in Iran (2007) and at home in Madurai (2008). Mamtha, who is an avid fan of volleyball, took to kabaddi after joining Government College Munyal as first-year pre-university commerce student in 2003.
“I liked volleyball a lot and used to play regularly besides occasional stints in kabaddi. My aim was to become a volleyball player. When I joined the Govt College, I started paying more attention to kabaddi . Soon I started liking the sport more and it all ended very well for me,” said Mamtha.
Born to Bhoja Poojari, an agriculturist and Kitti, a housewife, Mamtha’s march to glory wasn’t easy. “My family wasn’t financially sound, so my early days in the sport were very much difficult. But now things have changed and I am happy to have become a kabaddi player,” explained Mamtha.
Tejaswini, daughter of late B Venkat Rao, who was a clerk at BEML (Bangalore), and Vijaya Bai, a housewife, too had to battle adverse situations before she made a mark in kabaddi. “Life has become better in the last couple of years,” said Tejaswini, who started playing the game as a 14-year-old at the New Cambridge School.
The threesome now hopes that the country’s achievements would keep the sport in limelight. “A lot of people were watched us win the medal in China and I think that would bring more youngsters into kabaddi,” Tejaswini said.