Durgesh Kumar Pal was only 12 when he travelled from Ghazipur,located about 70 km from Varanasi,to Jalandhar to attend a talent scouting programme conducted by the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in January 2006.
We picked up 60 children from Jalandhar,and a similar number from two other centres Haryana and Dehradun, says ASI coach KS Ajimon. All of them came to Pune,and from that lot we selected 13 athletes. We conducted 10 different tests,for endurance,speed,strength and agility and Durgeshs performance stood out.
Three years later,two other boys from Uttar Pradesh made their way to ASI.
I came here for a trial in January 2009, says Rahul Kumar Pal,who hails from Puresuklan,a village near Amethi. Till then,I had only been training with my uncle Kamlesh Kumar Pal in my village,and I really wanted to use the facilities here.
Rajesh Kumar Bind,who came to Pune from Bhadohi,near Allahabad,can recall his exact date of arrival: December 28,2009.
In July,Durgesh,Rahul and Rajesh will travel to Barcelona as part of the Indian contingent at the World Junior Athletics meet. All three qualified on the back of their performances at the Federation Cup National Junior meet that concluded on Thursday at the Balewadi Sports Complex.
All three set new meet records at the event. Durgesh in the 400 m hurdles; Rahul in the 5,000m and the 10,000m; Rajesh in javelin throw.
Durgesh and Rahul are 19,Rajesh is 18. Its fair to say that the ASI has played a massive role in their development as athletes.
Before coming here,I used to throw around 56-58m, says Rajesh. Training here under javelin coach Rakesh Rawat,Ive improved in every aspect. At the Federation Cup,I threw 74.75m.
Ajimon suggests Rajesh is capable of hurling a javelin even further. In training,he has touched 76m a few times, he says. He had a bit of an elbow problem,otherwise he would have reached that mark even at the Federation meet.
In 2010-11,Rahul trained under S Pitchiah,a bronze medalist in steeplechase at the 1985 Asian Championships. When he first started out,he was doing 14 minutes and 52 seconds, says Pitchiah. In the space of a few months,he had brought it down to 14.14.
This improvement,Pitchiah says,was only to be expected. No other place in India has the facilities you get here, he says. We have a synthetic track,a cinder track,a cross-country track,all under the same roof. We also have a 500m sand track,not to mention a gym,a sauna,steam bath,ice bath,a sports medicine cell,a biomechanics specialist,a nutritionist to look after their diet.
Rahul now trains under ASI chief coach VK Mishra,who added another component to his regime. This year,we sent him to Wellington,in Ooty,for a 60-day altitude training programme, he says. I think Rahul has very good potential to win medals at the Asian and international levels.
Perhaps the most dramatic tale of athletic evolution is of Durgeshs.
Till 2009,the 800m had been Durgeshs primary event,which had fetched him a certain amount of success as well including a silver at the Inter-Zonal Youth meet at Jamshedpur in 2008. But Ajimon felt he was better suited to the 400m hurdles.
I didnt think he had too much potential in 800m, recalls Ajimon. From all the training he had done at ASI,I noticed that he was lacking a little bit of endurance,but he had very good speed and strength,and good long strides. All of this was ideal for hurdles. All he needed to learn was the technique,and I knew he would learn very quickly.
It didnt take long for results to vindicate Ajimons hunch.
In April 2010,Durgesh set a new national (youth) record of 51.50s at the Coimbatore Youth Nationals,thereby qualifying for the Youth Olympics in Singapore,where he won silver. A year later,he won gold at the Youth Commonwealth Games at Isle of Man. Barcelona could bring him further glory.
A faint smile creases Durgeshs otherwise poker face when he looks back at the switch. At that time,I was a little confused, he says. I thought I had a good future in 800m,but I guess the coach knows best.