Weightlifter K Ravi Kumar posted video grabs on social media, of a shoulder surgery he underwent, to counter doping allegation after a no-show at London, finds Shivani Naik
It wasn’t the most flattering of angles for a selfie. But Katulu Ravi Kumar wasn’t exactly gunning to become the next Twitter sensation back in early 2013. Propped on a hospital bed, seconds away from being sedated, surrounded by surgical instruments and with a limp shoulder to be operated on — weightlifter Ravi Kumar was desperate to capture every moment of his limb’s joint being opened up and the tendons and muscles delicately stitched back into the bone to repair the tear to the rotator cuff.
With help from friends later — when the anesthesia knocked him out — he managed to shoot an entire 60 minute video of the shoulder surgery.
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A few dozen snapshots of the tiny and very many incisions on the shoulder blade, then made it to his Facebook page. These were meant to be seen by all those who had left him vicious posts in the aftermath of the London Olympics after which the murmurs began.
He doesn’t call them trolls. He even chuckles while calling them friends. “Facebook pe sabhi friends hi hote hai!” he says wryly. The muscle-man from Berhampur, Odisha, who won a gold medal in the Men’s 69 kg weightlifting with a record total of 321 kg at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, had found dissing words a weight too massive to handle for what were one of India’s strongest shoulders.
Heading into the London Games, Ravi Kumar had been the first Indian male lifter to qualify for the Olympics in 12 years. Doping embarrassments had been rampant in these dozen seasons, and the country’s lifters themselves were returning to the big Games after the ignominy of a two-year ban imposed by the International Weightlifting Federation after the 2006 Commonwealth Games doping scandal.
Ravi had landed in the Games Village a fortnight before the start, and was on two pain-killers for a thigh muscle tear and the suffering shoulder. Then, he suffered a bout of fever. “I was in pain, and my performance was not up to scratch. When a lifter flops on the biggest stage, the immediate suspicion is he’s trained on steroids. Officials, seniors and other lifters were quick to criticise and say Ravi is on dope,” he says. Preponderance of the drug scourge in that discipline didn’t help matters.
“But I wanted to prove I’m innocent,” he insists. The lifter’s desperation to defend himself from all manners of unqualified slander, when he hadn’t even flunked a test, made him respond on the biggest vehicle for venting with the maximum reach — social network. “I immediately uploaded pictures of my surgery on Facebook hoping to convince people that my injury was genuine,” he says.
Quite far-fetched for those who would remain skeptical even if they’d witnessed the surgery in the operation theatre, but placatory for a few who were moved by this show of earnestness, it was at least the beginning of his comeback. “No one who’s undergone this shoulder surgery in India, has ever returned to the sport successfully. I want to be the first one to do that,” he says, having regained his motivation.
He needed a year-and-half of rehab. When he felt ready to lift barbells again, his delicate shoulder would only take a 15 kg rod at the start. “I started on the ‘girls rod’, like kids do,” he says, but not condescendingly. “Such times teach you humility, there’s so much we take for granted when healthy,” he says. He wrestled with thoughts of quitting on a daily basis.
Recording 146 in snatch and 180 in clean and jerk in the 69 kg category, he reached 150 and 187 having moved weight categories to 77 kg in four months. “I’d managed 5 national records and won medals at Asian and Commonwealth-levels. I was the only lifter to qualify for London and had worked hard for it. Yet, in one day, I was dubbed a doper because of the reputation the sport has,” he rues. “Coupled with the surgery, and the fact that no one’s returned from that injury, I was told by everyone in my family to quit,” he says. But Ravi reckons he has some unfinished business left.
For one, Ravi Kumar has team-mate and fellow 77 kg lifter Satish Kumar as a sparring partner, more a spurring mate. “He’s younger, he’s more fearless, and he’s beaten me in the last nationals in 77 kg. But more importantly whenever I felt my body fitness would let me down, I would look at him for inspiration,” Ravi says.
While training in London for a month now before heading off to Glasgow, Ravi Kumar senses he’s on the brink of a redemption. He’s totalled 337 in practice, and reckons he can hit the podium against a field comprising a pair of Malaysians, an English, Nigerian and a lone Sri Lankan.
Having been felled by a fever last time he was in the UK, a virus that triggered a string of events that left him sulking in a corner, he’s kept one firm eye on the temperatures this time in United Kingdom. “It’s 14 to 16 degrees and sunny, which is good for us,” he says. The lifter can sure do with some lifting of the dark clouds when he steps up like Hercules.