With four months left for World Championships, India's Rio Olympians train without coaches
It took eight years for an Indian long jumper, since Anju Bobby George in 2008, to qualify for an Olympic edition. Uttar Pradesh's Ankit Sharma registered a jump of 8.19 m in Almaty to break a decade-long national record and eventually secure the coveted Rio spot.
A disappointing performance at the sporting extravaganza did not take away from a string of impressive displays in 2015/16. A quick glance at the Rio scorecard, and if the 24-year old had successfully matched his Kazakh showing at Rio, he would've secured an unlikely top 8 finish.
A lot of the success could be attributed to Ankit's coach Bedros Bedrosian from Romania, who trained him to jump one metre more than his personal best. For Long Jump standards, that is the maximum gain an athlete can achieve in a calendar year. Despite showing bursts of success and quality performances, Ankit has been without a coach since Rio with both the World and Asian Championships, scheduled to take place in August and June respectively.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, he said, “Post-Olympics, Bedros' contract was over and I was told either him or a new coach will be assigned to me. However, it's been more than six months now and I'm training without a coach. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the Sports Ministry both told me that my performance was disappointing, I can deal with that. But at least give me a coach, especially when I jumped one full metre more under him. I've been calling them and telling them since Rio, and all they can say is, 'Process is on, it will take place.' If it does take place, when will it? After the World Championship is over? Then again they will say no medals?”
Want to train abroad under foreign coaches without affiliation? Don’t represent India then
The catch here is, every Rio Olympic-bound athlete is under contract with AFI, which instructs them that they can only train under foreign coaches provided by them. In December 2015, Triple Jumper Arpinder Singh gathered funds from his relatives/colleagues in an attempt to garner access to better coaching and training in London. However, within a week of his request, he received a letter from the AFI stating that he will be violating agreement terms and could risk representing the nation.
Ankit added, “I heard what happened to Arpinder, and even I was scared, but I tried to tell them that if I don't train during my loading session, it will be a huge problem. I even floated the idea of me going to Romania and training with Bedros with my own money. However, that was immediately denied. I've been calling them for two months now, either they cut the call or when they pick up they say it's almost done. I have already injured myself once, and don't want to risk that again.
“Right now, I'm even training on my own, checking my fitness levels. But can even the world's best athlete understand his own technique? I assure you even Bolt or Phelps don't do that. I feel helpless and scared that I cannot replicate my performance from last year,” said Ankit.
While Ankit opened up about the lack of coaches in Long Jump in India, Sportskeeda caught up with another Rio athlete about this problem. One of them, who chose to remain anonymous said, “That's the problem, people don't see the hardships. We practice through the entire month, we even approach reputed media houses, and they turn us down because I don't know why, maybe they know the association as well.
“However, even I have been training without a coach, and unlike Ankit, I'm used to it now. I don't complain, I just go about doing those things to the best of my abilities. But with no basic infrastructure, they shouldn't expect medals from us either,” said the athlete.
Upon contacting Ankit's Romanian coach, he seemed more than ready to coach him. Bedros said, “I want to go back to India and train Ankit myself. He is one of the most hardworking guys I've ever worked with. In fact, I keep telling him even if they don't extend my contract, why don't you come train here, we will figure monetary things out later. But, he speaks about some contractual issue.
“Yes, we were on an upward trend and I was aiming for an 8.35 m jump for him at the World Championship. However, with this huge a gap, we have to start from the beginning. I am yet to receive any solid communication about the extension.”
If we truly believe that India can transcend such problems and become a sporting powerhouse, such basic necessities shouldn't become problems. We cannot criticise poor performances by India's athletes, when we ourselves watch them only once in four years, especially when the ground realities are so harsh. The AFI was unavailable for a comment on the issue.