After his historic medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asiad four years ago, Ashish Kumar endured a long lean-period. Jonathan Selvaraj tracks India’s premier gymnast as he targets Glasgow 2014 to prove that he isn’t a one-Games wonder.
Amidst the many genteel houses in Allahabad’s old Civil Lines locality is a brash structure of very recent vintage. Three stories tall, it is clad in grey-stone tile with a wavy pink segment along the middle. “When it rains, the water looks really beautiful when it falls from that part,” says Ashish Kumar, pointing with pride at a photo of the house on his mobile phone.
“Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to have a big house. So, after the Commonwealth Games, when I got a lot of prize money, I didn’t spend it on cars or clothes,” he says. Instead the 23-year old spent it building his dream house that, he says, gets plenty of gawkers.
The windfall was unexpected but not as much as Kumar’s achievements in the gymnastics hall in Delhi four years ago. With a bronze medal in floor exercise, he had broken Indian gymnastics’ barren run at the Commonwealth Games. A day later, he added a silver in vault. In a few months, Kumar would chalk up another first — a floor exercise bronze at the Asian games.
There had been signs that things were coming together for Kumar. Back in 2006, he had won a bronze in floor at the Senior Asian Championships in a field that included two future Olympic gold medalists. A year later, he finished fifth in the all-round event at the Asian Junior Championships with 78.1 points, still the highest score by an Indian junior.
It was the Commonwealth Games, however, which made him the face of Indian gymnastics. In a sport where the country had long been seen as a joke, Kumar, then 19, drew applause from his competitors who paused to watch his routine. There was excited chatter on gymnastics forums online as he completed the only 7.0-Difficulty vault of the CWG field and followed it with a 6.6-Difficulty second vault. (The Difficulty-value or the D-value rates a routine on its difficulty, composition and number of combinations). Where the only expectations had been to dominate regional competitors, Kumar set his sights higher.
He dreamt of becoming the first Indian gymnast to feature in the Olympics and his house pays testament to his ambitions. The simple drawing room the architect presented during the design phase was not what what Kumar had in mind. The room now has a false ceiling on which are etched the five Olympic rings.
The London Olympics, however, would remain out of reach. No team was sent from continued…