Something unusual happened on the national sports channel yesterday. With India trailing by four goals against the formidable German side in hockey, the national broadcaster switched coverage from the Riverbank Arena to the Royal Artillery Barracks where an unnerved challenger was rapidly raising hopes of scripting a new chapter in the Indian shooting history. Like millions of fans who either switched off television in frustration midway through the hockey match or flipped channels to see a rising star announcing his arrival, our national broadcaster also wanted to show viewers something more cheerful and optimistic rather than the broken sticks of our national sport.
The army marksmen shot like a disciplined soldier who knew what his commander (our country) expects of him. A commodity of Army’s Olympic Mission Programme — which was launched in 2004 after Rajyavardhan Rathore’s silver in Athens Games – Kumar’s calm demeanour speaks volumes about the mental strength of our army man. Kumar has come through ranks and a system that is regimented and well-organised. This is in sharp contrast to the utter chaos our national sport is in, where two fractions are fighting for power and players are clueless on the direction.
For success in a team event, every individual has a role to play and there is a plan to implement. Sadly, our team looks like a disorganised unit and they are not “preaching what they practice”. Our hockey coach Michael Nobbs has already expressed his displeasure saying the team is not learning from mistakes and players are just not adhering to the game plan on the field. Nobbs, unlike our coaches who are soft spoken, is a blunt man. The Australian coach likes to call a spade a spade. Next few days will tell whether we will plummet to another ‘low’ in hockey or restore pride by finishing among the top-six.
Yesterday also saw the action begin in the track and field events. India’s only medal hope, Commonwealth Games Champion Krishna Poonia did well to qualify for the finals in her second attempt, by throwing the discuss to a distance of 63.54 metres. She overall finished eighth in the qualifying, if she can breach the mark of 66 metres on Saturday, we can hope for a medal, though a lot will depend how her competitors fare. Track & Field usually sees new records made during the Olympics, as athletes up their game, Poonia will need to come up with something spectacular to have any chance of medal hanging by her neck.
In Badminton, our ace shuttler Saina Nehwal could not sustain the momentum and lost in the semis against her old nemesis, Yihan Wang who is proving to be a Great Wall of China for her. For Saina, there will be a second chance on Saturday when she meets world number two Wang Xin in the bronze medal match. Saina has defeated her opponent before but she will need to make a fresh start in the play-off to accomplish her dream of winning an Olympic medal.
Stars are not born in a day, they come through a well-organised program. We need more unsung heroes like Kumar who are not only tough skilfully but also mentally. His measured comments after winning the medal tell a lot about this confident Subedar who credited his success to “discipline” and “routine”. Our success in the sport of boxing, badminton and shooting has been primarily due to the holistic programs structured by our top coaches who have a vision and are utilising the services of support staff effectively. We have today a strong factory of boxers who are waiting on the sidelines to enter the ring in case any of our top boxer slips in his performance, same is the case for Shooting and Badminton.
Kumar’s success story is an ode to commitment he has shown to all those who worked behind the scenes to help him realise his dream. Wish our hockey team had shown the same sparks of dedication and discipline!
By Aman Dhall
(The author is Co-founder & Partner, Pro4Sport Solutions, a high-performance coaching firm that trains young athletes in the sport of Basketball, Cricket, Football and Table Tennis)