'Doping has been a major problem in weightlifting but the situation is getting better', says Sathish Kumar
Sathish Kumar Sivalingam is not a household name. Although, given his performances, he should be. But then, weightlifting is not a sport one would associate with popularity.
The sport, itself, has never been India's strongest suit at the multi-sport events with most participants simply filling up the numbers.
Nonetheless, these things don't affect the 26-year-old Sathish. For him, doing the thing he loves, making his country proud and most of all, making his father proud are the things that matter the most.
Born to a former serviceman, who was also a national level weightlifter, Sathish took up the sport at the age of 13. To make ends meet, Sathish's father, Sivalingam, quit the Army and started working as a security guard at Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) University. At the same time, he began training Sathish in hopes of turning him into a champion lifter.
And, a few years later, in 2014, Sathish would indeed go on to make his father proud by winning the gold medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where he lifted a total of 328 kg. In fact, his lift of 149 kg in snatch was a new Commonwealth Games record.
Next, he would go on to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, after topping the selection trials in India, lifting a total of 336kg, which is his personal best lift. In Rio, though, he could not really make an impact lifting a total of 329kg to finish fourth in the six-lifter competition in his group and 11th overall. And after that, owing to injuries, his performance went down a little.
Now, having recovered fully, Sathish is one of India's top medal prospects in Gold Coast. Last year, he qualified for the Games after lifting 148kg in snatch and 172kg in clean and jerk, adding to 320kg at the Commonwealth Senior Weightlifting Championships that won him the gold medal.
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, straight from Gold Coast, the champion weightlifter spoke about his preparations, aspirations and much more. Here are excerpts:
Q> The Indian weightlifting contingent was one of the first contingents to reach Australia ahead of the Commonwealth Games. So how is that helping you in your preparations?
Sathish: In 2014, we had reached Glasgow just 2-3 days before the competition. We were jetlagged, had problems regarding the food and the change in time zone. So, it had affected our performances to some extent. Yes, we won a lot of medals but a lot of those silver and bronze medals could have been gold.
This time around, though, we have arrived way before and it has helped us get acclimatised to everything. We are adapting to the atmosphere, taking proper diet and most importantly, eating Indian food. The federation has acquiesced our request to provide Indian food and I think it will be reflected in our performances.
Q> Who will be your biggest competitors at the Commonwealth Games and what is your strength?
Sathish: Malaysia and Australia, definitely, will pose the biggest threats. But if I can do my bit, I don't think that will be a problem. It also depends on what happens on that particular day. However, my coaches have been helping me to improve and I'm hopeful that I will be able to repeat my performances from 2014.
Snatch is my strength, as I'm a little bit inconsistent with clean and jerk. But I have been working on that, and with the help of the coaches, I think it has improved.
Q> What is the role of Vijay Sir in the contingent? How exactly has he helped you guys prepare?
Sathish: Vijay Sir has helped us all since coming on board. His inputs were one of the main reasons why Mirabai Chanu was able to win the gold medal at the World Championships in November. But it's not like he is only working with her. We are one big family and anytime anyone has a question, he or she can just go up to Vijay Sir and he will help out.
Q> What kind of support have you got from the Federation ahead of the Commonwealth Games?
Sathish: The Federation has been supporting as well and it means a lot to us. A few years back, there was little to no support. But since the newly elected members have come on board, they have been really caring and they have heeded to our needs.
When we were at the camp in Patiala, every few weeks they used to come and asked us if we needed anything, what facilities need to be improved. They sat down individually with each member of the team and listened to what we had to say. So, I think that has been given us a massive boost and just at the right time.
Q> Doping has been a major issue in weightlifting for a long time now. Why do you think this has been a prevalent issue in the sport and what is the current situation?
Sathish: Doping is indeed a very big problem in our sport and it mostly happens because of the lack of education or awareness regarding it. At the national camp, the responsible people know which supplement has which component and they make sure we don't take any banned substances.
The lifters, who come from rural areas, do not know what to use and how to use. When they see that their performances are improving, they will start taking steroids and other stuff, without even knowing it falls under doping. So it is an issue.
Nowadays, though, doping is going down. I won't say it has gone down a lot because in every other event one lifter or the other is found to be using banned substances. But certainly, it has improved from what it was.
Q> How many medals do you think India will bag from the CWG in weightlifting? And what are your expectations from yourself?
Sathish: Hopefully, in the men's category, we will bag medals in all weight divisions. In women's category, it is a little bit tougher, but they also have the potential to win medals in every weight division.
As for me, In the last 2-3 years, after the Rio Olympics, I have had a few injuries, which had affected my lifts. My performance graph had gone down. Now, I have been maintaining my fitness, focussing weight training and I think, I'm in good shape now. Hopefully, I'll be able to give my best at the CWG and perform well.
Q> And, lastly, what are your next targets? After the CWG?
Sathish: Asian Games is the main target for me, because last time around, I missed it due to illness. Also, that's where the real challenge will be. Vijay sir has already also told us that after the Commonwealth Games, we will start preparing for the Asian Games and I will definitely work hard for it.