|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, October 27, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Will India ever produce a Milkha again?
An athletics season of limited returns
‘Every aspect of my game can be improved’
Will India ever produce a Milkha again?
In 1981, Premchandran was hailed as the second Milkha Singh, after winning a silver medal in the 400 metres. But after he dropped the baton anchoring the 4x400-metre relay during the 1982 Asiad at Delhi, he just faded away, unable to take the blame for the muddle.
In 1995 Paramjit Singh ran the 400 metres in 46.00 seconds at the SAF Games in Chennai, though it too fetched him only a second place behind Sri Lanka’s Sugatha Tilakratne. Within a year the Sri Lankan had cut his timing by a good second and became a regular finalist in world meets. Paramjit Singh, meanwhile, struggled to maintain his eminent position in the domestic meets, and when he did manage to break the long-standing record of Milkha Singh, it was worth little for the rest of the athletes had further cut the record by more than a second.
Is it then so difficult to produce another Milkha Singh who could compete with the best in the world or is there something inherently wrong in our attitude towards athletes? The answer is easy to find if only we would look at the comparative careers of Milkha Singh and those who have been periodically hailed as his potential successors.
Much like the black athletes of America, basketball players and boxers included, Milkha Singh was a natural athlete, coming from the underprivileged section of society. He realised as a young recruit in Secundrabad that the likes of him could gain some recognition and respect only through their athletic achievements. A pat from the Commanding Officer was worth more than a brick of gold when it exempts you of the back breaking "fatigue" duty when others are having a well-earned afternoon nap. This attitude took him to the nationals in no time, and there he surprised everybody by doing very well. His performance earned him a place at the national camp for the probables for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
To the surprise of everyone he did very well during the trials too, and got chosen for his first ever Olympics, even though the officials knew that he stood no chance. The truth is that he went to Melbourne, saw it and was duly awed and impressed. On the track he failed to cross the first heat, but the experience taught him that for his qualifications and background, it was only excellence in his chosen field which could open the most dour doors. He had seen how champions moved on to a different zone in a matter of seconds. He came back determined to pursue the rainbow. The period from 1956 to 1958 was a period during which he poured sweat on to the track, getting ready for the Tokyo Asiad. He was also conscious of what he wanted and the effort that was required to achieve it.
It took him a couple of months preparation to win the Cardiff Commonwealth one lap race where he further reduced his timing from 47 seconds to 46.6 seconds. In other words, he had taken two years to be best in Asia, and then when the opportunity came by to compete with some of the best in the Commonwealth, he proved his worth. For the next two years his employers the Indian Army and the officials of the Indian Olympic Association led by Raja Bhalendra Singh saw to it that he had the best opportunities to compete in Europe and with the best. Thus, when he arrived at the Rome Olympics he was alien neither to the conditions there nor the lifestyle. He was ready and eager to realise the dream.
That it was not to be, is another matter. But two points have to be emphasised. One, he had never before even touched the 46 seconds barrier, and two, even then he broke the world record and was placed fourth in the race. There is no doubt about the fact that he has been the best ever we have produced. It has taken 38 years for someone to break his record, though he himself is loathe to admit that it has happened.
It is difficult to explain what made the authorities wait for Milkha Singh to develop and blossom, for this patience is rare. They invested in him for four years, which is the normal period for a young athlete to grow. The same sagacity has never been demonstrated again, except perhaps in the case of P.T. Usha. But then both had the advantage of having caught the attention of the nation. Perhaps Milkha Singh’s dramatic victory over Abdul Khaliq, the Pakistani sprinter, did the trick for him, perhaps Usha was the first female athlete who promised a lot, or perhaps, because both had the good fortune of being spoken to personally by the then Prime Ministers, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, respectively. But the truth is that the nation pinned their hopes on them, even though at no point of time in their careers they held the world record, or even come close to being the undisputed champions.
In contrast we have the careers of Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, a contemporary of Milkha Singh, Sriram Singh of the 1976 Montreal Olympics fame, and more recently Paramjit Singh. Randhawa’s 110-metres hurdles record is yet to be broken by an Indian, and he remains the sole finalist at the 1964 Olympics, where Milkha Singh was but an also ran. Sriram Singh too surprised everybody when he made it to the final at Montreal. He also basked in glory when he briefly led the 800 metres race for a lap, thereby helping Cuba’s Juanterano to shatter the world record. There is no knowing what they could have achieved if they had been given the same preparation which was given to their more illustrious predecessor.
Premchandran’s sudden exit from the scene can be attributed to a weak mind. Mistakes and disappointments are part of a sporting career. The strong ones learn from them, and emerge the better for they know that there would be another day. But it is the case of Paramjit Singh that is baffling. He ran the 400 metres in 46 seconds at a fairly young age. They did not, and for the next two years when he should have been learning by running with better runners, he was left at home to run in the medicore competitions. Why? Was he not talented enough in 1995 to be taken notice of? Or, is talent recognised only when Milkha Singh’s record is shattered? But, then, if a twenty something youngster is running 400 metres race in 45.5 seconds, then he does not require any encouragement or help from the officials. It is presumed that in a couple of years he would be beating the likes of Michael Johnson regularly.
During the era of Milkha Singh the athletic scene was dominated by the Services. The skills of their athletes were honed by the adrenal that flows in the veins when a packed stadium is willing you on to run faster. Ever since the Services decided to withdraw patronage to sports, the stadiums have been empty. There are only the participants and the officials to witness their performance. But good performers, we know, need a stage, and the great ones respond to the occasion.
The Paramjits do not have the presence of a motivating crowd whose lung power and adoration pushes them harder towards the tape, which makes it all the more important for the officials to fine tune their ability to recognise talent and nurture it. Else, we will continue to wait for a Godot to fetch a medal for us.
An athletics season of limited returns
The athletics season so far has been somewhat of limited returns if one has to judge on the basis of national records set or broken. The string of domestic circuit meets, the inter-state at Lucknow followed now by the National Open at Chennai has yielded just three national marks one by Gurpreet Singh in the high hurdles and Anju Markose in the long jump for women and Karamjit Kaur in women’s pole vault.
This compares poorly with the glut of records in the previous years which saw three of the four records held by P.T.Usha obliterated, the updating of Milkha Singh’s quarter-mile mark of Rome vintage and his 200 metres mark of the same era, Anil Kumar’s mark in the 100 metres the new distances attained by Shakti Singh in men’s shot put to add to the improvement with each competition of Neelam J. Singh in the women’s discus among others.
One of the main reasons for the lack of rush on the records could be the absence of competitions abroad. A few of the athletes who successfully reached new marks last year have not been regular on the track this season. The main reasons given for the absence of such stalwarts appears to be injuries. Perhaps they also lacked the necessary incentive in the absence of competitions outside of the country. The two main internationals for the year scheduled this winter were SAF Games in Islamabad and the Afro-Asian Games in Delhi. Both have been postponed. What remains is the not- so-attractive home competition in the Punjab — the National Games. But these have never really attracted all the top stars.
Apart from the lack of regular heroes the other possible reason for the handful of national records could be the decision taken by the Amateur Athletics Federation of India to hold tests for drugs in each and every major national competition. Whether the AAFI has actually carried out any tests is a different matter? Then there is the question of ratifying the marks set last year.
The AAFI has not given its consent to all these marks. In fact the marks set by Rachita Mistry (100m11.26s) and Vinita Tripathi (200m23.04 s), both belonging to P.T.Usha and the 20.60 m throw in the shot put by Shakti Singh are still being debated. But Shakti cannot make an issue of it as such since his inter-state record of 20.42m has found acceptance. The logic of denying one performance and accepting the lesser one does not make sense as there is no record of any tests being carried out. And if there was a test carried out, the verdict is missing. Whatever the reason the very fact that by withholding the ratification the AAFI has managed to cast suspicions on legitimacy of some of the performances. And that in itself will be a great deterrent to anyone indulging in unfair practice.
There may not be thus many records this season but the one single performance of Gurpreet Singh in the 110 metres hurdles at Lucknow can dwarf all high profile showing of the earlier years. Employed with the Railway, this young lad from Punjab had promised much two years ago when he clocked 14.19 sec in the inter-state meet. Now at Lucknow he went on to eclipse the 37-year mark of 14.09 sec set by Gurbachan Singh Randhawa in Tokyo Olympics, clocking 14.07 sec. And Gurbachan, in sharp contrast to some others, congratulated the 20-year old youngster, expressing his happiness over the fact that someone had finally updated his mark.
A month later at Chennai, at the Open meet, Gurpreet once again won the event, along with the hurdles over 400 metres, and though he could not retrace the steps taken in Lucknow, he did come home in a creditable time of 14.18 sec. India can indeed now look forward to some great deeds by this lad. Anju Markose’s 6.74 metres in the long jump was achieved in a domestic circuit meet early in the year while Karamjeet Kaur, the only woman pole vaulter doing over three metres has a best of 3.17 metres. She has virtually no competition in the event.
aspect of my game can be improved’
Pullela Gopi Chand, only the second Indian to have won the All-England Badminton Championships, has cautioned his rivals to expect some tough opposition from him next year.
"In the coming year, God willing without any injuries, I will be at a better standard in terms of my fitness as well as my game," Gopi Chand has said.
"I think there are lots of areas in which I can still improve and I am hopeful that I will be at my peak next year," said Gopi Chand, who won the All-England title in March. "I think every aspect of my game can be improved, which makes me very optimistic," he said.
Gopi Chand’s coach S.M. Arif concurs. He believes the 28-year-old is capable of continuing in the present vein for some time because of his "sincere approach" to the game. Pointing towards Gopi Chand’s deceptive game at the net and his strong mental makeup, Arif said: "All the international players (still) fear his deceptive net play."
"He can continue as long as he wants, provided injuries do not trouble him," said Arif.
Arif says a player can maintain his peak form as long as he has the drive and is motivated. "The way Gopi has managed both, no one can stop him," he asserted, saying Gopi Chandsincere approach is his biggest asset.
"He has reached a stage where he can beat any player at any time," Arif asserted.
"The only problem he has had recently was with his injuries," said Arif. "A player needs a rehabilitation period after an injury. But Gopi has been playing continuously despite the injuries, and that is why it took him a while longer to heal," he said.
The latest mishap occurred in August when Gopi Chand injured his left wrist after a fall during a first round match in the Singapore Open. It forced him to take a three-week break from the game, which meant that he missed out on a few tournaments, including the prestigious Asian Championship the same month.
Hyderabad-based Gopi Chand, who has won five successive national singles titles, took advantage of the break and worked hard on his physical fitness as well as his game. "I practiced for about five-six hours every day during this period," he said. "There was a special emphasis on strengthening the hands and abdomen muscles," he added.
On his agenda is a training stint abroad, but he is not revealing the details at this juncture. "I have a few more ideas regarding my game. I am trying out a few things, and hopefully I will be able to decide soon," he said.
What the soft-spoken Gopi Chand is willing to disclose is his participation in a few more tournaments this year. "I will be competing in the Thailand Open in November and another couple of tournaments in December," he said, adding he would chalk out his itinerary for 2002 after the international calendar is announced.
The All-England title has been the high point of Gopi Chand’s career. Only one more Indian, his mentor Prakash Padukone, won the crown in 1980.
Last month he was awarded the Rajiv Khel Ratna, India’s richest sports prize that is worth Rs 3 lakh. Last year, he was conferred the Arjuna Award for excellence in sports. IANS
Colts make history; DD caught napping
I am extremely happy that our young boys defeated Argentina in the junior hockey World Cup final by a big 6-1 margin to clinch the World Cup. This victory is laudable. The boys deserve all praise and encouragement for bringing laurels and glory to the country. It is high time the Central Government rises to the occasion and patronises the national game.
October 21, 2001, was a memorable day for India as our junior hockey team won the World Cup in Hobrat, Australia. People are jubilant. But it is very sad that neither Doordarshan nor any sports channel took pains to telecast live an event of such magnitude. DD1 or DD2 should have done it from the day India qualified for the semifinals defeating Germany. The Indian Hockey Federation should have thought of it. Thousands of hockey lovers were really disappointed.
Kudos to India for clinching the seventh junior hockey World Cup. They drubbed Argentina 6-1 in the final to lift the coveted cup. The dominance of the Indian colts over the Argentinians was absolute. They played fast and aggressive hockey. Deepak Thakur, the highest scorer of the tournament, registered a hat-trick while Arjun Halappa relayed the ball with accuracy. India scored 31 goals conceding only 11 in the tournament and won six matches, lost one and drew one.
After a disastrous performance against the Kenyans, I can undoubtedly say that every Indian heart must have cried. Let’s keep aside this topic and think of the team as a whole in other matches too. I agree that it is not the worst side at the international level but it is also not the best one. We are relying too much on Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar. If they give us a flying start, we look like a side which can beat any side in the world. Are other players mere passengers? How many times has Rahul Dravid won matches for India? I don’t doubt his capabilities but can India taste victory by just relying on him?