Road to Rio: Avtar Singh, India's only judoka, heads to the Olympics as an underdog

Name: Avtar Singh

Age: 24

Discipline: Judo

Category: Men 90kg (half-heavyweight)

Qualification: Singh qualified under the 90kg weight category under Asia’s continental quota, as per the list released by the International Judo Federation.

Strengths: The well-built judoka has a powerful style of play, and his lack of exposure could be something that will work to his advantage, as opponents wouldn't know what to expect from him.

Past Olympic performance: Debut.

Past record (best performances): Gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati
- Bronze medal at the Asian Junior Judo Championship in 2011.

Rio Prospects: Avtar heads to Rio as a outright underdog, without proper access to training or infrastructure. An expectation of a medal from him would be far-fetched, but the Olympics experience will be invaluable for the young judoka.

 Road to Rio: Avtar Singh, Indias only judoka, heads to the Olympics as an underdog

File photo of Avtar Singh. Image Credit: JSW Sports/ Facebook.

To say that Avtar Singh is an underdog would be an understatement. Singh’s qualification came as a surprise to everyone, including himself. The judoka has no experience in the Asian Games, has not participated in any world championships and this is the first time he will compete in the Olympics.

Since 2015, he has participated in only six international events. It wasn’t a choice that Avtar consciously made, he was compelled to limit his bouts due to lack of funds. His financial state was so bad that his parents had to spend all their saving to give him a shot at Rio. And he made the best of that chance by garnering enough points at the Samsun Grand Prix in Turkey to qualify for Rio.

The judo champion had no organizational support to back him up as well. The Judo Federation of India (JFI) was recently derecognised over improper election procedure and its non-compliance to the National Sports Development Code. Hence, despite the support of the sporting venture JSW Sports, Avtar could barely attend any tournaments. The fact that he garnered enough points and qualified despite his dearth of event participation is impressive in itself.

However, Avtar recently visited a training camp in Dunavarsány, Hungary, and has trained with veteran judoka Cawas Billimoria in preparation for the Games. He will be one of the two Asian judokas in the 90 kg category in  Rio, according to a report by Sportstar.

But the lack of experience can be Avtar’s undoing, as he may not have the required exposure to prepare for the Olympics. His coach Yashpal Solanki is concerned about this inexpereince. “More exposure equates to adaptability and exposure. Avtar used to get events like South Asian Games, how will that help him prepare for the Olympics. It helped him financially, he got Rs 4 lakhs, but in terms of actual growth it was nothing as he was far superior to his competitors," he was quoted as saying by Sportskeeda.

But help is making its way to the judoka. He was recently sanctioned Rs 30 lakh under the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme. There have been efforts to help his parents, who gave up their saving to fund his training, make their way to Rio to watch their son as well. Milaap.Org, India's largest crowdfunding platform, has joined hands with Mother Dairy and Green Bench to raise Rs 8,00,000 to fulfill his parents' wish to see him fight.

The resilient athlete doesn’t know what his fate at Rio will be, but he hopes for the best. “I didn’t expect this (qualifying for Olympics). It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. I know I train hard and I give my 100 per cent. I have promised to do well for my country and I just want to give my best," he told Sportstar.

His best may not guarantee a medal but the experience will count for a lot as the young judoka will gain international exposure which is sure to help him in the future.

With inputs from agencies 

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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2016 13:24:46 IST