The podium has place for only the athletes who perform in front of the world. But there’s always guiding hands and wise counsel that show the right path to a medal. The seven medals India won at Tokyo too owe a lot to the coaches who worked behind the scenes to ensure their wards succeeded on the biggest stage.
Uwe Hohn (Head Coach) & Dr Klaus Bartonietz (Biomechanical Expert)
Athlete: Neeraj Chopra
Event: Javelin Throw
The javelin thrower’s body is like a bow and the javelin an arrow. This is Dr Bartonietz’s philosophy and it worked like a charm for Chopra. Bartonietz has immense knowledge about the intricacies of the event and is credited with making Chopra stronger, yet more elastic, in his movements. He was part of the core team which developed javelin-specific work-out machines German throwers swear by.
Uwe Hohn, the only man to throw the spear over 100 metres, coached Chopra when he won the Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medals in 2018. He roped in Bartonietz for his expertise in early 2019. Both Germans had worked with the Chinese national team earlier.
Vijay Sharma (Chief National Coach)
Athlete: Mirabai Chanu
Discipline: Weightlifting 49kg
MIRABAI Chanu came under the guidance of Sharma, a former national champion, in 2014, the same year he took charge of the men’s team for the Commonwealth Games. Sharma’s own career as a weightlifter was curtailed because of a wrist injury. He has been a constant during the highs and lows faced by Chanu. After she failed to produce one legal lift in the clean and jerk at the 2016 Rio Olympic, it was Sharma, along with her mother, who coaxed her out of thoughts about retirement. Sharma joined the national camp in 2012 after UP, the state he coached, became national champions.
Athlete: Ravi Dahiya
Event: 57kg freestyle wrestling
Brought in to prepare Sushil Kumar for Tokyo Olympics’ qualification, Malikov was meant to be a fitness trainer, a sparring partner and observer for India’s two-time medallist. But once that was no longer feasible, Malikov was employed from April 2021 under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) to help Dahiya. For the Indian wrestler, Malikov was able to procure prime sparring partners in Vladikavkaz (Russia). The 23-year old’s defeat in the gold medal match at the Poland Open would prompt the 34-year-old coach and student to work harder at improving reaction times and the speed of counters. Dahiya is a product of wrestling coach Satpal Singh and the set-up at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium.
Athlete: Bajrang Punia
Event: 65kg freestyle wrestling
Bajrang’s rise to become one of the top wrestlers in the 65kg category occurred after Bentinidis took over the reins of the 26-year-old. An animated coach, Bentinidis has facilitated sparring partners for Bajrang from the United States and Russia. The wrestler from Haryana, thus, travelled across the world looking for wrestlers who can attack him with speed. The goal – to improve his leg defence, an aspect that continues to be a weakness, and his reaction times. While still not perfect, the influence of Bentinidis has led to improvements in Bajrang’s arsenal and an Olympic bronze medal to boot.
Raffaele Bergamasco (High Performance Director)
Athlete: Lovlina Borgohain
Event: Women’s welterweight boxing
Son of an Olympian, Bergamasco was a five-time national champion and took part in the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics as a coach. After guiding the Italian women’s team from 2001 to 2007, he took over their senior and junior men’s sides and contributed to six Olympic medals. He was let go after a barren run in Rio, and found his way to India in 2017, orchestrating the country’s best ever medal haul at Youth Boxing Championships (five gold, two bronze) that November. A month later, he was promoted to high performance director for senior women.
Country: South Korea
Athlete: PV Sindhu
Event: Women’s singles badminton
Sindhu’s game was based on strength and impressive hand speed, and she often overpowers opponents. But she needed more variety and dimensions to win consistently against the best players in the world. Enter Korean coach Park, who had chiselled into shape players like Sung Ji-Hyun, whose on-court movement had the smoothness of a swan in still water. Park not only gave Sindhu assurance in her stride, but importantly, worked long quality hours on her defence – always a target owing to her rangy frame. He would also inject confidence in Sindhu’s game at the net. Where she would earlier swat at the shuttle and lift copiously to move the battle away from the forecourt, in Tokyo Sindhu expertly engaged with Akane Yamaguchi and didn’t shy away from the dribbles. The smash-tap forced opponents to dig deep, and that mostly worked in the Indian’s favour. Park was also animated – something Sindhu draws great energy from.
Team: Men’s hockey
The stint with the Indian team was a shot at redemption for Reid, who was at the helm with Australia when they crashed out of the Rio Olympics in the quarterfinals with a 4-0 thrashing against the Netherlands. He has changed the team’s psyche, making them less prone to making costly errors at inopportune moments. After the loss to Belgium in the semifinal, it was Reid’s job to pick the team up for the bronze-medal playoff against Germany, and India gave one of their most rousing performances in a long time. Earlier in the tournament, after the 7-1 hammering against Australia, Reid ensured the team didn’t panic and fought on level terms with all teams. He has toughened the team and history will record that he was in charge when India climbed the Olympic podium in hockey after a gap of 41 years.
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