China beat the US to the top of the table at the Beijing Olympics 2008. With 51 golds compared to US’s 36, they made it abundantly clear that they were now a sporting superpower and here to stay. Looking for the secret to China’s success, it was found in their system.
China’s essential aim was to win glory for the nation through sport. To achieve this goal, the Chinese established centralized elite sports system. There were government run sports training centres at all levels – national, provincial, city and county sports schools. Children as young as 4 years were identified and put into these training centres. With all expenses borne by the State, the children were made to train out of their skins so that one day they may excel at the international level and bring glory for the Nation.
In India, I daresay the system is entirely different.
At the age of four, I was a precarious little kid whiling away my time playing games in the building compound – chor police, hide-n-seek, seven stones and climbing a tree to get onto the garage roof.
A few years later, I took a fancy to table tennis which I religiously practiced by hitting the ball against my mother’s bedroom wall while she was taking an afternoon nap. No complaints came forth.
At the age of 8 years, I began badminton coaching. Mom would be up at 5.00am every morning, making breakfast and getting me and my older sister ready for school. The real challenge there was getting me to wake up and then once ready, do 100 jumps with the skipping rope as ordered by the coach. I was lazy so I had to be coerced, bribed, convinced and basically handled with care as I was inflammable.
Back then, life was pretty routine and I worked an average of 17 hour weekdays. But mom worked 20 hours. Though my homework and projects were done primarily by me, she helped out when I was just too spent.
Mom diligently took me for my badminton coaching 7 days a week for many years. This impacted her social life as invitations to parties and events were turned down on a regular basis. Yet no complaints came forth.
We travelled for tournaments, handled challenges and faced the triumphs and losses together. She did all this knowing that she was giving up time with the rest of the family and her dreams of running a small business.
For my 16th birthday present, I asked her for something big –I wanted to shift to Bangalore for advanced training. She bit the bullet. Her little baby had grown wings and was ready to fly.
This is where I caught up with the Chinese system to a certain extent. Now I was away from home in a privately sponsored academy training hard to bring glory for the Nation.
And even after that and until today, she is my constant support offering words of encouragement and assurance. She made me believe that I could be the best… and even if I didn’t get there for some reason, she had got my back. She taught me to stand up after I’ve been knocked down many times over.
My experience is not unique.
Sacrifices made by Gopichand’s mother to ensure he had enough money to buy shuttles are well chronicled in his recent biography. Odds & social ridicule faced by parents of Geeta Phogat to become an Olympian is yet another example of sacrifices made by parents. These are but a few examples that are more well known. I am sure there are many more such inspiring stories that have yet to see the light of day.
My mother raised me to be an Olympian. She was my family, teacher, guide, friend, psychologist, doctor, dietician, travel agent and... punching bag.
Behind every Olympian who goes out and plays for the country there is herculean effort and sacrifice put in by their mothers, fathers, and others who have contributed to make her or him ready to compete with the best. Let us also cheer these unsung Olympians with the same ardor as we cheer our athletes in London!