Making a difference

Making a difference

Making a difference

Geet Sethi’s brainchild Olympic Gold Quest will have 14 athletes from its fold at the Olympics

Geet Sethi’s contribution to sport extends beyond billiards and snooker. Unlike many who would just complain and do very little, the veteran cueist, after getting a first-hand look at the plight of Indian athletes at the 1998 Asian Games, Sethi decided to form the ambitious Olympic Gold Quest along with former All England champion Prakash Padukone.

With nearly 33 atheletes under their wing, of which 14 have qualified for the London Olympics, the eight time world champion, who was in the City to participate in an invitational billiards tournament, spoke about India’s medal hopes at the quadrennial bash, the future plans of OGQ and the growth of Indian sports.

What prompted you to start OGQ?

The idea was mine and it came to me after the 1998 Asian Games -- my maiden multi discipline sport appearance. It grew further when I went to Sydney Olympics two years later as a guest. I saw deficiencies and areas where our athletes needed support. I shouted a lot about this and criticised the federations involved. However, I realised criticism does not change things and even if it does, it is an extremely slow process. So, I was determined to do something myself and approached Prakash with the idea, who instantly agreed to be a part of it.

What do you think will be our haul at the Olympics?

I personally think we should come back with five medals and there is a technical reasoning behind it. If you see our graph over the last three editions, we won one bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games (Leander Paes in tennis singles), in Sydney 2000 (Karnam) Malleswari won a bronze, (Rajyavardhan Singh) Rathore clinched silver in 2004 at Athens and in 2008 we won one gold and two bronze.

It is very clear that we are strong in shooting and I’m confident we should return with two medals from that discipline. There is a lot of talent in boxing with Shiv Thapa and (MC) Mary Kom looking very promising while Vijender Singh is a definite medal contender. Saina (Nehwal) is there; the archers could pull off a surprise while tennis should bring us a medal. I am confident of at least five medals.

Fourteen of the 33 OGQ athletes have qualified for the Olympics. Are you satisfied with the progress?

We are pleased because we started just before the Beijing Games. We are a bunch of individuals who are totally committed and continue to do our work and that’s the best we can do. We can try to make a difference and at the end of the day the results will follow. We hope that the team will be able to come back with something.

Your famous ward Saina had to endure a poor last 12 months before bouncing back with two wins in a row. Your comments…Badminton is a physically demanding game.

Every sportperson goes through tough times and when things go bad, they have a snowball effect. Similarly, when things go well it has a snowball effect too and therefore I’m happy she has returned to winning ways. In fact, even when she was going through a bad phase, I kept saying she will come back before the Olympics.

She’s training very hard and we’ve organised a physiotherapist for her. Gopi (P Gopichand) is doing a very great job and I believe winning a medal at the Olympics should be easier than winning the China or Japan Opens. She’s a very strong girl and she’ll fight it out.

You seem to rate teenager Thapa very highly, why so?

He’s just 18 and the best part about him is his mental make-up. He’s a kid who has not lost and is very unorthodox; therefore people cannot read his style. (The novelty factor) is going to be his biggest and greatest strength at London at least.

You are an eight-time world champion and have seen a lot of ups and downs in your career.

Have you ever had pep talks with athletes in OGQ fold?
We had organised a motivational session at Neeraj Bajaj’s house in Mumbai where Prakash (Padukone) and I invited hockey legend MM Somaya and asked him to get his Olympic gold medal. The athletes touched it and felt how great it would feel to be wearing one of their own.

We just told them that they need to be completely in zone now and remove everything else from their lives. I advised them to read Gopichand’s biography where he says he actually became a monk and lived a life of recluse after suffering a knee injury in a bid to get back to the top. I’ve made an agenda where I’m going to talk to all the 14 athletes before they leave for London. Moreover, some of them are world class athletes who have seen many situations and all they need is just outside help.

Compared to 1970s where mere qualification to the Olympics was big, India now have made some progress. We are talking about winning medals. Your thoughts.

It’s a wonderful shift. From mere qualifying to whether we will reach a final to winning medals, it’s a great boost.

The money spent on sport and subsequent media coverage has played a huge role. The Sports Ministry has also loosened their purse strings over the last decade and the results are to be seen. Of course bureaucratic concerns still exist but that’s where organisations like OGQ and Mitttal Trust come into play and hasten things up. Say for example a thing that would take months to get cleared, would be done by OGC in a matter of days, sometimes within 24 hours. At the elite level the difference between success and failure is very minute -- 0.2 or 0.3 precent -- and we need to be on our toes always. We are a good catalyst.

London is nearly over. What are your plans for the 2016 Games?

We have signed on shuttlers Lakshya Sen and PV Sindhu. For someone just 10, Lakshya is an exceptional talent while Sindhu -- at 16 -- is the reigning national champion. As you’ve said London is pretty much over in terms of preparation and the next big focus would be Rio de Janeiro.

By 2016, we would like to have at least 50-70 athletes and by 2020 we would want to have 100. Having said that, the primary task over the next 18 months would be identifying athletes for the 2016 Games.

Athletes that you are dealing with are all big names, multiple champions, World No 1s.

How difficult is it for OGQ to handle them and their finances?

We have got a fulltime CEO in Viren (Rasquinha) and his job is two fold. Firstly, he liaises with the federations, because every time we need to do something for an athlete we need to keep the federation involved. But his main job is to constantly be in touch with the athletes, meet them and find out what their mental make-up is.

Moment an athlete needs something, he/ she just have to make phone call to Viren and it is delivered at the earliest. Our decision making is quick; if we don’t get a reply within 24 hours it is treated as an yes.

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