Little-known athletes earned their share of fame when they became first-time medallists at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The Indian Express traces the lives of those who made a mark.
Job done, it’s mom duty for now
Rajwinder Kaur, 29
Medal: Silver (women’s +78 kg)
At Rajwinder Kaur’s residence in the Punjab Armed Police Sports Complex, Jalandhar, there is a lot of activity. Rajwinder’s two-year-old son Gurvansh refuses to eat food and wants his mother to feed him. It’s a rare thing in the household as it is mostly his father Kuljinder Singh, also a judoka, who takes care of him, with Rajwinder busy competing.
A busy schedule means she has to stay away from her son for days on end. “Before I was leaving for Glasgow, he would often say mom, don’t go. But then I had to go as it was after much thought that the Indian federation was sending a judoka in +78 kg category,” says Rajwinder, as she feeds Gurvansh.
A native of Fazilpur village in Taran Taran district of Punjab, Rajwinder first took up athletics in school. But a leg injury forced her to leave athletics and it was then that she switched to judo.
Next up is the Asian Games and as she gets ready to pack her bags for the 20-day national camp in Shillaroo, Himachal Pradesh, talks veer towards the Glasgow Games. In the final, Rajwinder, who weighs around 80kg, had to face a 135kg opponent.
“After I reached the final, my husband called me up seeing that I was facing a 135kg heavy opponent. He kept on saying so many things which I don’t even remember now. But he told me to move swiftly. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and she won on penalty,” says Rajwinder, a head constable with Punjab Police.
When she took up judo, nobody knew about the sport in Fazilpur. “So, when I opted for the sport, I wanted the children at my village to know about it,” says Rajwinder.
Her family moved to Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh some years back and though she is yet to visit her village after the Commonwealth Games, one hopes Fazilpur remembers its famous daughter and the sport that made her famous.
In village of ‘palaces’, Chana is the king
Navjot Chana, 30
Medal: Silver (men’s 60kg)
Dagali Kalan in Hoshiarpur is unlike any other village. The landscape is dotted with palatial buildings, most of them belonging to NRIs. It is here, in this village of palaces, that Navjot Chana lives. Locating his equally big house is not that difficult — the Commonwealth Games silver has given him a sort of celebrity status.
Navjot’s father Paul Chana is a UK citizen and the judoka had every opportunity to settle abroad. But Paul wanted his children to grow up in India and practice one of the martial arts. Chana senior decided his children should learn Judo and so, after returning to India in 1993, the couple enrolled their three children at an academy in Hoshiarpur.
Success followed soon after. In 1995, Navjot’s younger sister Sajida won a bronze in the Ludhiana district championship. Even today, that medal is treasured above all else in the Chana house.
“We still consider the medal won by Sajida the luckiest. That was the first medal in our home and my Glasgow medal would be placed below that,” Navjot says, holding his three-month-old daughter Navnoor in his arms.
He and his younger brother Navdeep followed in Sajida’s footsteps, and for the next few years, the brothers would finish one-two in the same weight category in district and state championships.
Navjot would go on to become the junior national champion in 1998 and the junior Asian champion in 2002 before winning the Commonwealth Judo Championship in 2004, 2008 and 2010. Speaking about those early days, Navjot reminisces: “The three of us would go to the academy in a rickshaw and we would be there even if it was raining.”
Navjot, an ASI with Punjab Police, got some valuable tips from double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar on wrestling. “I idolise Sushil paaji. I met him in Glasgow and he told me to work on my grip by practising with ropes.
Finding that missing link
Prakash Nanjappa, 38
Medal: Silver (men’s 10m air pistol)
Almost a decade ago, Prakash Nanjappa had landed himself a dream job. Having completed his graduation from Bangalore, the software engineer was hired by a multi-national based in Toronto. With a job he loved, handsome salary and being happily married, Prakash couldn’t have asked for more from life. “Deep down, I had this nagging feeling that I was missing something. Despite all the good things around me, I was feeling incomplete,” he says.
Prakash shared his feelings with his father, PN Papanna, who realised what the missing link was. It was shooting. Till the time he moved to Canada, the sport was an integral part of their lives.
“It was a challenge with my dad that got me interested in shooting. Back in college days, I was more into motorbike rallies and I casually made fun of him when he was practising for a state-level championship. He told me if I thought it was so easy, I should prove myself,” recalls Nanjappa.
Following the conversation, Prakash drove to an armory in Toronto, bought a pistol and began shooting again. It used to be a casual, weekend thing until he equalled the Canadian national record with a score of 575 in 2008.
His father urged him to return to India — he did so the following year. “I looked at some young guys in India and they were shooting remarkable scores, but I was confident. Age wasn’t a factor, my dad started shooting when he was 51!”
At 37, he became the first Indian pistol shooter to win a World Cup medal last year and also the oldest. Glasgow again proved that age is just a number.
Vaulting to stardom
Dipa Karmakar, 21
Medal: Bronze (women’s vault)
Dipa Karmakar gushes when you ask if she knows she has a fan club with nearly 1,000 members on Facebook. “Fan club for a gymnast?” she retorts. Dipa, who turned 21 on Saturday, adds she isn’t much active on the social networking site, saying it can be a huge distraction. She doesn’t prefer shopping or movies either. The innocence in her voice compels you to believe her.
Her coach Biswaswar Nandi testifies that he has never seen an athlete as focused as Dipa.
“This bronze she has won is a culmination of the hard work, focus and dedication she has shown for the last 15 years,” Nandi says.
Dipa was only five when her father, a weightlifting coach, introduced her to the sport. It looked dull in the beginning and she was sick of it after a couple of months.
Gymnastics isn’t considered a mainstream sport in the country and none of her friends in Tripura were interested. But she wasn’t allowed to quit.
“I slowly started liking it — the different challenges and stunts. A year later, I won my first medal in a local tournament. Winning felt good and I got hooked into the sport even more,” Dipa says.
In 2011, the then 18-year old won five gold medals at the National Games and enhanced her reputation. But she and Nandi knew that to win a medal at an international meet would take something special. “That’s when we decided to go for the highest difficulty level, valued at 7. We started preparing for it three-and-a-half months ago. There wasn’t enough time to perfect it, but we managed it somehow,” Nandi says.
The maneuver could frighten even the best. But Dipa pulled it off displaying grace to become the first Indian woman, and second from country, to win a gymnastics medal at the CWG.
Bitten by the shooting bug
Apurvi Chandela, 21
Medal: Gold (women’s 10m air rifle)
Six years ago, Apurvi Chandela was bitten by the shooting bug. Abhinav Bindra’s historic gold medal won in Beijing gave her the answer to what she wanted to do in life.
“Abhinav’s gold medal in Beijing inspired me and that’s how I started shooting,” said Apurvi. Her first big break came when she won a gold and a silver at the Intershoot competition that was held in The Netherlands in 2012. The year was a breakout one for her as she won gold at the nationals too.
As she tasted success in shooting, academics was put on the back-burner. A third-year student of Sociology at the Jesus & Mary College, Apurvi hasn’t been able to give her final exams. “I have not been able to attend the lectures. My college is very strict when it comes to attendance. With all the traveling that I have been doing , it was very difficult. But next year I will definitely sit for the exams,”she added.
2014 has been her biggest year yet. Besides winning the gold in Glasgow, India’s first in the 10 metre air rifle since the 2006 Games, she won two gold medals and a silver in the Intershoot in The Netherlands.
But talk of rising expectations and pressure fail to dent her confidence. “I will keep doing what I have been doing whether I win or not.”
It started with a Sunny show
Mandeep Jangra, 21
Medal: Silver (men’s 69kg)
Mandeep Jangra knows the exact moment when he fell in love with boxing. It was 2004 and Jangra was only 11. He had developed a keen interest in movies when his friend took him to watch Sunny Deol’s Ghatak.
Exposed to fight sequences for the first time, he was seduced by ‘Sunny paaji’s’ power. “The way he beat ‘Katya’ (the villain, played by Danny Denzongpa) was thrilling to watch,” Mandeep says.
The next day, he visited the stadium in Hisar and saw aspiring boxers in the ring. After they were done, Mandeep stepped into the ring and indulged in some shadow boxing. “That was how I first stepped into the ring and immediately, I knew this is where I belong,” he recalls.
His father, a mason, dismissed this as his childhood fantasy. “They asked me, even threatened me, to leave the sport. But I had made up my mind and nothing could change it,” Mandeep says.
So rapid was his progress that in a couple of years, Mandeep was in the national camp for the juniors, where he met Akhil Kumar, who had just returned with a gold from Melbourne CWG. Akhil took him under his wings and it pretty much reflected in his style of boxing.
In Glasgow, his ability to move away from an approaching punch earned him a sobriquet — ghost. But Mandeep knows he can’t hope to win an Olympic or World Championship medal by depending on his quick movements only.
The final against Scott Fitzgerald, he says, will be his blueprint for future bouts. “I made a naive mistake. I saw my opponent bleeding in the first round and I got carried away,” he admits. “But in doing so, I exposed myself and it cost me dearly. I have learnt my lesson, and henceforth, will learn to play to plan.”
Aloo paratha fan is the toast of India
Vikas Thakur, 21
Medal: Silver (men’s 85 kg)
Looking at the stairways leading up to the Ludhiana district weightlifting club in Rakhbagh, Ludhiana, Vikas Thakur went back in time, when as a nine-year-old he was denied a membership to the club.
“I was eight years old when my father got me my first weightlifting bar. I would train at home and had put up posters of Hollywood heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in my room. One day I went to get enrolled at the club,” recalls Vikas.
He had Rs. 10 in his pocket and on the way home, decided to call the office of his father, a guard with the Indian Railways in Ludhiana, from a PCO booth. “I told him I won’t go home unless I get enrolled in the club.”
It was only after Vikas’s father Brij Lal spoke to the club coach Parvesh Sharma that the young boy was given membership. Soon, Vikas started showing that he was a natural when it came to lifting weights.
Vikas, though, won an international medal first before winning anything in the country. In 2011, he won a silver and a bronze at the Asian Junior Championship in Pataya where he created a national record with a lift of 133 kg in snatch. That same year, he won his first national medals when he grabbed three silvers at the junior championship in Itanagar.
Asha, Vikas’s mother, does not watch his son in action but feels his hunger for medals stems from his hunger for aloo parathas. “He loves them and even packs them when he travels. Perhaps, this is the reason for his hunger for medals,” says Asha.
Dad, the inspiration
Sathish Shivalingam, 22
Medal: Gold (men’s 77 kg)
When Sathish’s father Sivalingam retired from the Indian Army as a naik in 2001, the Vellore resident, a national level weightlifter, decided to become a referee. The senior Sivalingam was without a steady job till 2006 after which he was hired as a security guard at Vellore Institute of Technology.
“I retired from the Indian army in 2001. To make ends meet I started officiating. I trained Sathish in his initial years. But later we met former Olympian T Mutthu and sought his help too,” Sivalingam said. “I used to wonder whether I could make him proud by winning a medal at the international level. Even though he was without a job, he encouraged me and my younger brother to join the gym and start practicing, Sathish says.