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Pune: Olympics training ground…

Puneities can feel proud of the fact that three of India’s four medallists at the London Olympics trained at their city.

Written by Karthikkrishnaswamy |
August 12, 2012 5:23:04 am

Puneities can feel proud of the fact that three of India’s four medallists at the London Olympics trained at their city. The Balewadi Sports Complex housed Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar,who were both part of the national camp at the shooting range,as well as boxer MC Mary Kom,who trained there under Liverpudlian coach Charles Atkinson. Had light flyweight Devendro Singh won his quarterfinal bout against Irishman Paddy Barnes,it would have brought Pune another medal. The Manipuri boxer learnt all his moves in the city,at the Army Sports Institute in Mundhwa.

However,not a single athlete from the city was in London. Maharashtra saw poor representation – shooter Rahi Sarnobat,from Kolhapur and wrestler Narsingh Pancham Yadav,from Mumbai.

Facilities like the Balewadi sports complex and the ASI — which sent a total of 11 athletes to London – provide a world class finishing school for already established athletes. Balewadi also houses academies to train young talent — such as the Gun for Glory (GFG) shooting academy,the Nikhil Kanetkar Badminton Academy (NKBA) and the various units of the state government-funded Krida Prabodhini scheme.

Former badminton Olympian Nikhil Kanetkar,who runs the year-old NKBA,feels it will take a while before these academies churn out local talent in large numbers.

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“Right now,the academies at Balewadi are focussing at the grassroot level. So it may take a while. I am focussing on the 11-13 age group,and maybe five years down the line,they will be doing well at the national level,and then,hopefully,representing India a year after that,” he says. “It’s similar with other sports. With Gagan’s success,more kids from Pune might take up shooting. That’s how it generally happens.”

The state’s sporting culture is another major factor. A sizeable proportion of the archers in the Indian Olympic contingent are from the North-East,for example,while the bulk of the boxers and the wrestlers hail from Haryana. Each of these is an example of a broad-based sporting culture. When Bhiwani sent four boxers to the Beijing Olympics four years ago,the district’s success wasn’t a freak instance of four exceptional boxers rising to prominence from a small geographical area. It was instead a result of the sport’s widespread popularity in the region.

“If you go to Bhiwani,you will be shocked. Everybody is into boxing. Everyone admits their kids to academies where they will stay and train with 100 other kids. It’s a different culture there,” says Abhijit Kunte,who heads player management at Lakshya,a Pune-based sports NGO that supports over 40 Indian athletes,six of whom went to the Olympics. Not surprisingly,three of the five boxers whom Lakshya supports are from Bhiwani.

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Lakshya’s roster of sportspersons provides another clue regarding the city’s lack of Olympic presence. The only Puneites on the list are either teenage,up-and-coming tennis players such as Arjun Kadhe and Rutuja Bhosale — for whom an Olympics appearance could still lie in the future — and chess players Esha Karavade and Soumya Swaminathan. Pune produces its fair share of WGMs,but chess is not an Olympic discipline. Maharashtra,meanwhile,could claim a place for itself as a wrestling hotspot,but the sport largely remains stuck in a time-warp,wedded to mud wrestling rather than the internationally relevant mat wrestling.

“In Maharashtra,people are mad about wrestling,but they are limited in their thinking,” says Balasaheb Landge,who serves as secretary of the Maharashtra State Wrestling Association (MSWA) and the Maharashtra Olympic Association (MOA). “Mud wrestling remains popular,but only mat wrestling is contested at Olympic level. Wrestling on mat is much faster,and your diet,training,exercise are completely different.”

As a result,the state has produced only one wrestler of international class in recent times — Mumbai’s Narsingh Pancham Yadav,who won the 74kg freestyle gold in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and lost in the first repechage round in London. To rectify this situation,Landge says that the MSWA is planning to set up mat facilities in 44 district units. “We have completed 21 so far,” he says. “From the start,kids need to be trained on the mat. If that happens,Maharashtra has enough talent to compete with Haryana.” According to Landge,states such as Haryana,Punjab and Jharkhand also reward their athletes far more lavishly than Maharashtra.

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“In Haryana,Jharkhand and Punjab,the government awards athletes cash prizes in lakhs for winning medals at the national level,” he says. “Until recently,we were giving them only a few thousands.” Landge hopes that the state government’s decision,taken last year,to reserve 5 per cent of all government jobs for sportspersons,will reap benefits a few years down the road.

“It’s a good start,and it will start showing results soon,” he says. “Earlier,athletes from Maharashtra would get central government or railway board jobs,and compete against Maharashtra. Maybe we will retain more of them now.”

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First published on: 12-08-2012 at 05:23:04 am

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