Abhijeet Kulkarni

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Abhijeet Kulkarni worked as a sports journalist for over a decade and is currently associated with LAKSHYA, a non-governmental organisation which identifies and nurtures sports talent at the grass-root level.

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Olympics: Preparation is key to India’s success

Jul 30, 2012

Well begun is half done. If that standard is to be applied to India’s campaign in the 2012 London Olympics, then we are done for.

In the first two days of competition, the men’s and women’s archery teams made disappointing first round exits, the mixed doubles badminton combination is all but out of competition and the three shooters in fray so far have failed to even qualify for the finals.

There have been two positive results each in boxing and badminton but all those victories have come against underdogs and there are tougher battles ahead.

So what exactly has gone wrong? Did the archers and shooters – considered medal prospects – wilt under the pressure of expectations or were they done in by the conditions? Both reasons are equally valid. But they are merely symptoms of a bigger problem that is ailing Indian sports for years now – lack of emphasis on preparation.

There was no long-term plan with the Olympics as the target and national archery coach Limba Ram admitted just a few weeks before the Olympics that he wasn’t sure how his wards were going to handle the wind factor in London. AP/PTI

Take the example of archery. The women’s archery team, which was seeded second before the preliminaries, had qualified for the Olympics almost a year ago and had the luxury of concentrating on the preparations since then.

Once the organisers had announced that the archery competition would be held at the Lord’s cricket ground it was common knowledge that handling the windy conditions would be a major factor and the Archery Federation of India could have easily arranged special camps for the women archers in countries where the conditions would be similar.

This would have allowed the archers to know exactly what they need to do in London. However, the women’s team continued to train with their male counterparts who were yet to qualify for the Olympics and hence were looking to peak at every competition they participated.

True, all the archers worked extremely hard and put in numerous hours of training to be ready for the Games. But they have been doing that for years now. There was no long-term plan with the Olympics as the target and national coach Limba Ram admitted just a few weeks before the Olympics that he wasn’t sure how his wards were going to handle the wind factor in London.

The story of the archers is an example that is followed across the board in Indian sports.

Explaining the way Indian sports works, former All England badminton champion and now the chief national coach of the Indian team, Pullela Gopi Chand once dismissed the possibility of India becoming a sporting superpower in the near future saying we don’t have any such plans.

“To excel in sports is all about the right preparation and long-term planning,” he had said during a panel discussion in Mumbai. “In India, we start talking about 2010 Commonwealth Games in 2008, 2012 Olympics in 2010. We are always targeting in the next competition and not sporting excellence in major competitions with at least a 10-year plan.”

In 2008, Abhinav Bindra was the only player who looked at the bigger picture and charted out a special schedule for himself with a single-minded goal of winning a medal in Beijing Olympics. The 10m air rifle shooter took off to Germany and did not bother about the criticism about his form in the various competitions in the run up to the Games and reaped the rewards of that preparation by becoming the first individual gold medallist of the country.

Abhinav’s plans were his own and were aided by the Mittal Champions Trust and the only credit that the federation could take was that they did not put brakes in his plans.

Sometimes I feel that just concentrating on the task ahead and not planning for the big picture is a socio-cultural problem for us as well. Be it with bigger issues like infrastructure development in the country to charting out a career plan for one’s child, we are always driven by the immediate task at hand and really don’t stop and ponder about how it will contribute to the excellence in future.

Hence as a student, a child is encouraged to mug up answers with an aim to get marks rather than understand the subject or a junior category sportsperson concentrates on winning every tournament he or she plays rather than spending time concentrating on improving the technique.

A junior India swimmer who recently trained in the US explained the difference of coaching system between the two countries, saying: “Here everyone will ask you about the position after a competition. There, the juniors are given specific timings which they have to set and concentrate on the technique. No one is bothered about whether you finished on the podium or not till you reached a certain level.”

The London Olympics is still in its early days and Indian athletes could win a few medals by the time curtains fall on this edition of the quadrennial Games. In the regular scenario, we will once again rejoice and celebrate the occasion and only remember about the 2016 Olympics when a trip to the Brazilian capital is round the corner.

Hopefully, that will not be the case.

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