Avtar Singh is on cloud nine after qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The tall Gurdaspur judoka, who became the country’s first men judoka to make the Olympic cut in 12 years, is upbeat his Olympic prospects. The 2016 SAF Games gold medallist, who is employed with Punjab Police, talks about his game and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q. You are the first men judoka to play in the upcoming Rio Olympics after a gap of 12 years – Akram Shah was the last men to feature in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Representing the Olympics is a big honour and a lot of hard work has gone into it. I’m glad that an Indian men judoka is playing in the Olympics after such a long time.
Q. You performed really well in the 2016 Asian Judo Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan, where you finished fifth – a performance that helped you qualify for the Rio Olympics.
I thought I performed well in the 2016 Asian Judo Championship- I defeated judokas from China and Iran and missed out on a podium finish narrowly. This performance helped me to climb up in the world rankings and bag the Olympic berth under the continental quota.
Q. Every judoka looks to improve – what areas you are working on?
I’m getting better and better with my inner and outer leg sweep and need to polish it even more – I also need to work on my footwork.
Q. Your coach Yashpal Solanki believes your fitness is your biggest asset – your thoughts?
Fitness is an important aspect of a judoka and I’m working hard to maintain a high level of fitness as without fitness you cannot win bouts on the international stage.
Q. You fight in the 90-kg category – which judokas you think will be your biggest challengers in Rio?
Judokas from Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Sweden, Russia and Georgia are strong and I have to be at my best in Rio.
Q. There is a general feeling that you don’t have quality sparring partners in your weight category – what’s your take?The standard of judo in India is not that great – you need good sparring partners if you want to do well on the big stage. Lack of quality sparring partners is a reality I’m trying to cope with.
Q. Are you planning any foreign exposure trip in the coming weeks for your Olympics preparations?
I will be heading to Hungary soon for a training-cum-competition stint later this month and then I will take part in a competition in Russia early next month. I hope these stints will help in my Olympic preparations.
Q. Do you think judo has spread to all parts of the country?
There is no dearth of judo talent in India – with the support of the federation, SAI and government entities I’m sure more talented judokas will emerge.
Q. Your father works in the Punjab government health department and your mother is a housewife. How much have they contributed to your judo career taking shape?
Without their support I would not have achieved anything in judo – my dad broke some of his fixed deposits to support my judo passion. Of course, now I have JSW as my sponsors but in my earlier days it was only my parents who stood behind me through thick and thin.
Q. You are ranked 79 in the world – how optimistic are you of bagging an Olympic medal?
Rankings don’t have much meaning – it may help some get a favourable draw but once you enter the round of 32 at the Olympics it’s all about giving your best in each bout and hope for the best. My fifth place finish in the recent Asian Championship has given me a lot of confidence to go for the jugular at Rio.Published 08 Jun 2016, 21:20 IST