Gian Singh Cheema, a former Asiad bronze medallist in weightlifting at Delhi’s 1982 Games, wanted to do his bit for the present generation of Indian weightlifters. “For three weeks in Birmingham I was a driver to them, wherever they needed to go.
I couldn’t trust anyone else when it came to taking good care of my Indian lifters,” says the 57-year-old, who offered to host the training camp of the Indian weightlifting contingent at the gymnasium he owns in London, ahead of the Glasgow Games.
A UK resident since he was 11 — albeit one who still holds an Indian passport — Cheema was keen that Birmingham become the base camp for Indian lifters, so when they crossed north of the border, and went to the highlands from the midlands, Glasgow wouldn’t seem like too steep a peak to ascend.
“We got the entire Indian community of our neighbourhood to rally behind the Indians’ preparations. But I thought I should be doing the running around. What’s the point of hosting sports people if you can’t tend to their every need?” says the gracious host who has been watching the lifters collect a rich haul these last few days in Scotland.
An initial plan to train in Turkey was scrapped after coaches contacted Cheema, who sensing that the budgets were modest suggested they pitch their tents at his training centre which has four platforms.
“We got them to stay in three-star accommodation at Ramada, and ensured they got protein-rich food which was Indian or Asian, which they preferred. These things are important,” he says, adding that the Asian community chipped in wherever they could.
“On the final day, the whole community of 400 people gave them a send-off that no-one in India would’ve got before heading out to a Games,” he says, of the farewell-reception where each lifter was handed a ‘remembrance medal’. And made to feel like a million bucks, with Indians treating them like stars.
Their acclimatization complete, the Indian lifters were ready to take on the world — and have, till Sunday, won seven medals.Cheema recalls the struggle that went into his own medal — India’s first in weightlifting after nearly four decades. “I was still an Indian citizen, but England had allowed me to participate on their team at the 1978 CWG. Rules are stricter now,” he clarifies.
He would visit his village near Jalandhar every year, and recalls flying down to Ernakulam in 1976 for a national meet, before making the Indian team. “I wanted to represent India since then. But they wouldn’t reply to my letters. So I got the consulate in Birmingham to send them a pre-paid telegram which meant they had to respond. The trials happened in Delhi, and I made the 100kg class in the squad,” he says.
The medal continued…