SUNIL Kumar Siwach’s golden victory in the 50 kg category at Istanbul (Turkey) was fashioned by an unshakable belief in himself and a sturdy will to win by surmounting all odds.
Sunil had always dreamt of becoming a boxer after watching the rough and tough sport on television, but he had no role model to draw inspiration from at his village in Bhiwani. But once he took a calculated plunge to become a boxer in 2001, there was no looking back.
Sunil’s success at Istanbul has also shown that Indian boxing is on the right track, after a terrible low at the 2002 Busan Asian Games, where the pugilists had drawn a blank.
The return to form of Indian boxers was evident at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne where they picked up five medals — one gold, two silver and as many bronze.
The cadet championship consisted of a very tough field, and the young Indian pugilist packed too many punches to outwit taller, tougher opponents from former Soviet Block countries. In the first three bouts, Sunil beat boxers from Kazakhstan, Belarus and Uzbekistan by convincing margins.
Sunil was clearly the underdog against the taller Azerbaijani boxer Agayev Ilkin in the final. But the 17-year-old Haryana boy landed punches with quick-silver footwork to rattle his opponent, and forced an RSC (referee stopped contest) verdict.
Lenny D’Gama, who was one of the referees/judges at the competition, said Sunil was clearly the best boxer among the 212 participants from 37 countries, and deserved to win the best boxer award. "That he missed out on the honour only showed the groupism and power blocks at play in world boxing", noted D’Gama.
Sunil, whose father Sadhu Ram Siwach is a kabaddi coach with Haryana police, credited his success to his coach Jagdish Singh of Bhiwani SAI Sports Hostel. His father and elder brother Satish Kumar, who is a kabaddi player, have been meeting his additional diet requirements so that he can pursue boxing with single-minded passion.
Sunil’s potential was quite evident when he won a silver medal in the Sub-Junior National Championship at Jamshedpur in 2002, just one and a half years after he took up boxing.
The next year, he won a gold in the sub-junior nationals at Haldwani (Uttaranchal), and in 2004, he picked up a silver at Bhilai and a gold at the YMCA Championship in Delhi. He won a bronze in the Hyder Aliev Cup in Azerbaijan in 2005.
Sunil got off on a winning note in 2006 when he clinched a gold at the B.D. Chandiwala Tournament in Delhi, bronze in the Junior National Boxing in Goa, gold in the Asian Cadet Boxing Championship in Vietnam and now the world cadet title. But he has no plans to rest on his laurels as he has set his sights on winning the gold at the Asian Junior Championship at Goa later this year, before the big one — the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The turnaround for India boxing is certainly a cause for jubilation, though the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) must also give serious attention to the fact that six other boxers who participated in the cadet championship returned empty-handed.
"The IABF should focus on correcting their flaws. It should also invest in Sunil, now that he has proved that he’s champion material. Moreover, an air-conditioned boxing hall is the need of the hour", says Dronacharya awardee boxing coach Om Prakash Bhardwaj.
Due credit must be given to the IABF for persisting with its efforts to produce champions despite many setbacks. IABF president Abhay Singh Chautala has endeavoured to groom junior talent by exposing them to world-class coaching and competition.
FINDING latent talent in India is mostly a game of chance. Ashveer Singh Saini started playing golf thanks to Lady Luck.
With a distinguished sports pedigree, the youngster is developing into a fine player. The transformation from a hockey player to golfer was so smooth that it left all wonder-struck. The talented sub-junior hockey player first took up golf about a year and a half ago and continues to make giant strides in the new sport.
Already on a roll, he has emerged victorious in the last three tournaments he has participated in India. Besides, he has also qualified for the Faldo Series Asia, topping the competition for qualification held at the Army Golf Club, Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi, in December last year.
After a year’s initiation, the youngster started to produce results. The big breaks started in December last year and the winning streak continues.
He was introduced to hockey very young. With an international player as his father and an Olympian as his uncle, hockey was the family sport. His uncle Baljit Singh Saini wanted him to follow in his footsteps and make a mark in hockey.
Baljit brought hockey sticks for the lad, who took up the sport easily. In fact, it was lack of action on Baljit’s part, which finally led his nephew to shift to golf.
"I had got a hockey stick for him. He is a good hockey player. Once he broke his stick and the lazy person that I am, I did not get another one for him for a week or two. He started going to the golf club with his father in the evenings and we all suddenly realised that he could become a fine golf player. His swing was good," recalls Baljit.
Ashveer’s father Balbinder works at the Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala, which has a good 18-hole golf course. He is on the RCF golf team and plays in the inter-Railway golf tournaments.
A student of Class VII at Anand Public School, Kapurthala, Ashveer first tasted success at the Faldo Series Asia qualifiers held from December 2 to 3, 2005. He finished first runner-up at the Western India Junior Golf Tournament at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club, Mumbai, held from December 13-16 and the All-India Junior Golf Tournament at Pune.
This year, the results have been better. After being the first runner-up at the BCG Golf Tournament at Bangalore, he won the next three tournaments where he took the field. Victories came at the Southern India Junior Golf Tournament at Coimbatore from June 6-9, ITC Classic at Gurgaon from July 4-7 and the North India Junior Golf Tournament at Dhaula Kuan from July 9-12.
According to Baljit, the youngster is a quick learner and tips and advice from his 16-year-old training partner Gaganjit Bhullar have helped Ashveer along. It has boosted his confidence. Gaganjit’s father is also employed with the RCF and Bhullar is also doing extremely well on the junior circuit.
Ashveer also goes to Chandigarh to receive coaching from Jassi Grewal at the Chandigarh Golf Club from time to time. Of course, studies suffer but Ashveer is an above-average student who devotes most of his attention and time to golf.
Seeing her elder brother lift heavy weights with effortless ease, a little girl from Chattowal village of Hoshiarpur was so fascinated that she took up weightlifting at an early age.
With the guidance of her brother Surinder Singh, a national-level weightlifter and presently a national coach, coupled with her own hard work and determination, Geeta Rani has become a leading weightlifter.
At the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, she not only clinched the gold medal but also created two Commonwealth records in the 75 kg plus category by lifting 137 kg in clean and jerk and 241 kg in total.
She also bagged the gold at the Commonwealth Championships in Australia in 2005 and at Malta in 2004.
After these achievements, it is not surprising that she is eyeing an Olympic medal. "I am working hard for the 2008 Olympics," says Geeta.
But she seemed disheartened that Indian weightlifters would not participate in the Asian Games at Doha in December this year due to the ban imposed on the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF) by the International Weightlifting Federation after two Indian lifters tested positive for a banned substance at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year.
"It is really sad that we cannot participate in the Asian Games but fortunately the ban is only for one year," says Geeta, who has not stopped her practice despite the ban.
On the doping issue, the weightlifter opines: "This menace has been haunting the players associated with power games for the past many years. Many a time sportspersons are innocent as I don’t think anybody wants to bring disgrace to oneself or one’s country and waste one’s toil of so many years".
However, she also agrees that sometimes many sportspersons take banned substances to enhance their performance, bringing disrepute to the fraternity.
Terming the ban on IWF as a warning to all sportspersons of the country, Geeta wants all budding lifters to rely on natural diet as well as hard work and regular practice.
She also disapproves of the notion that the career of a sportswoman cannot last after marriage. "I have given my best only after my marriage in 2002," says Geeta, who is married to national-level lifter Jarnail Singh.
Earlier this week, the Punjab Government honoured her with a cash reward. Geeta, however, feels that the government should give more such awards and provide more facilities to sportspersons to encourage them and ensure their financial security.
is his mantra
Fitness is of paramount importance in contemporary sports due to the cut-throat competition and hectic schedules. With little rest available, players are prone to injuries, some of which can even prematurely end their careers. However, suitable treatment and rehabilitation can help an injured sportsperson return to action sooner or later.
Top Indian sportspersons like Sachin Tendulkar and Abhinav Bindra have been forced to miss several important competitions because of one injury or the other. Injuries occur during competitions, training sessions or fitness routines, and are often caused by faulty training methods, lack of appropriate footwear or safety equipment, or improper diet.
Injured players rely on sports medicine experts these days to stage a comeback. Dr Mandeep S. Dhillon, Professor, Department of Orthopaedics, PGI, who specialises in sports medicine and is associated with the Indian hockey team and several sports bodies in the country and abroad, says that India is far behind the developed countries in this field. According to him, lack of fitness is the prime factor that cuts short the careers of Indian players.
"There is hardly any data on budding national-level athletes pertaining to their formative years. That is the time when they need to be moulded into tough sportspersons," says Dr Dhillon.
"Sports medicine has become a specialised field. Its aim is to evolve proper training methods, development of specific muscles related to a particular sport, injury prevention and early diagnosis if injury occurs, appropriate sports nutrition and management of injury," he adds.
"Management of injury is insufficient in isolation. Sports medicine now encompasses areas ranging from sports development, sports dietetics, sports injury prevention, injury treatment and rehabilitation. Medical advances are even being tailored to meet the demands of sportspersons as well as specific sports disciplines," says Dr Dhillon.
Apart from sports psychologists and physical trainers, modern sports medicine also involves specialists like nutritionists and biochemists. Nutritionists help plan the diet of the players during tournaments to optimise muscle development, energy reserves as well as stamina and biochemists identify specific problems that occur in the body with excessive strain and energy depletion.
Commenting on the fitness of the World Cup-bound men’s hockey team, he says that the players are now on the right track and capable of producing good results. "Indian players are technically the best in the world but they have often lacked power. However, with coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran working in tandem with four others — physical trainer, physiotherapist, doctor and a nutritionist — the players are gaining strength," he states.
"But such facilities are available only for those who join the national camp. Most of these injuries occur during the initial years, when these are overlooked by players due to ignorance. Later, these turn into major problems when the sportspersons graduate to the national level. Moreover, many players tend to hide their injuries just to make an appearance in the national team, which makes matters worse," says Dr Dhillon.
"Overuse injuries seem less important than acute injuries. Athletes are tempted to ignore aching in the wrist or soreness in the knees. But if it left untreated, a chronic injury will probably get worse over time," he adds.
At present, Dr Dhillon is working with the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) on pre-participation examination to identify the areas of weakness. He is also looking into how much damage bending does to hockey players and how to deal with such a posture so that it doesn’t lead to injuries. He is all praise for the IHF’s initiative to catch youngsters and train them at the right time to make them physically more fit.
Dr Dhillon is also working with the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) to develop an injury surveillance protocol to identify injuries in young players at the district level. "This will help in identifying the injury incidences at a younger age and enable players to perform at their full strength when they graduate to the senior level," he states.
"The idea is to prevent injury at younger age. Today, sportspersons are exposed to the competitive level at a very young age. At the other end of the spectrum are the ageing athletes, whose fitness problems are increasingly being recognised. All these factors will force sports medicine specialists to understand paediatric and geriatric influences on contemporary sportspersons," concludes Dr Dhillon.
Regardless of the Delhi High Court’s verdict, the golf players’ faction is determined to stage a breakaway tour on the domestic circuit. The players’ group, which has garnered support from some top corporates, reiterates that its tour would be as successful as Kerry Packer’s cricket circus in the 1970s.
"We are not fighting for ourselves but are waging this battle to improve the lot of professional golfers who deserve a fair deal." This is the premise on which the players’ group is working.
The veterans associated with professional golfers in the country, however, feel that Tiger Sports Marketing (TSM) has played the all-important "fatherly" role and it should be recognised.
The players’ faction counters this claim by saying that in this modern, commercial world of golf, such orthodox views do not cut ice. Money is important to promote golf and sufficient financial cushion for leading payers is the key to success.
The parties involved — Professional Golfers’ Association of India, TSM and the players’ faction — are refraining from giving comments on the plea that the matter is sub judice.
Some die-hard golf lovers are quietly endeavouring to bring about a compromise so that the lifestyle of poor caddy-turned professionals does not get affected. But the chances of an amicable settlement are remote as some players are vocal in saying that about Rs 17 lakh were spent on the 2005 season’s opening function in a five-star hotel. "We accept that it was a grand function, but why to waste money like this?" they asked.
The conflict, however, does not affect the cream of Indian golf — Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa and Shiv Kapur — who are busy playing on other international circuits.
The time has come when leading stars could be made to play one or two competitions on the Indian circuit. Perhaps, appearance money should be offered to them. This is as necessary an expenditure as the prize money.
The vexed issue came up during the petroleum tournament last year. Jyoti Randhawa reportedly demanded Rs 5 lakh as appearance money. The demand was not exorbitant, but a player-turned-coach-turned-promoter denounced it. He said: "Let him and other Indian players make it to the top 30 in the world before demanding appearance money."
The petroleum tournament is not the World Cup or the Davis Cup. It is an event organised by the petroleum board for the purpose of publicity. If the organisers can spend Rs 50 lakh on this kind of competition, why not another few lakh on players as appearance money?
When Jeev was asked to comment on the issue pertaining to appearance money, he merely said: "Sorry, I have nothing to say." The same maturity should have been shown by the organiser instead of making his views public at a press conference.
The organiser’s comment is one of the major issues that is bothering players. The golfers are the protagonists — the organisers are nothing without them.
Shooters on top
Apropos the feature ‘Crack shot’ (Saturday Extra, July 29) and the news item ‘Manavjit makes critics eat humble pie’ (The Tribune, July 30), three Indian shooters — Abhinav Bindra, Navnath Farthate and Manavjit Singh Sandhu — were crowned world champions within a week. Indian shooting could not boast of even one world champion in the past about six decades.
From the days of Maharaja Karni Singh winning the trap silver in the world championship at Cairo in 1962, Indian shooting has indeed come a long way.
Till the Shotgun World Championship at Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2003, Indian shooters had only four medals to show, including two at the junior level — a gold won by Jaspal Rana in 1994 and a bronze by Rajkumari Dhodiya in 2002. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who won a bronze at the world championship, inspired many budding shooters by winning the silver at the Athens Olympics.
Iqbal Singh Saroya,