The cradle of sport is often small hamlets, nestled away from the hustle and bustle of big cities. While Sansarpur in Punjab is synonymous with hockey, Sathuvachari in Tamil Nadu is known for weightlifting.
Not many would even know where Sathuvachari is. This small village in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu has produced close to 50 weightlifters of both national and international fame, including Olympians and Arjuna awardees. Close to 100 weightlifters from Sathuvachari have made careers in central and state government institutions under the sports quota.
Traditionally a farming village, Sathuvachari’s youth turned to weightlifting as an alternate means of employment and survival after a river that runs nearby dried up.
Looking at the number of weightlifters Sathuvachari has produced, it is easy to assume that the village – which is a blink-and-a-miss one on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway and now more recently a part of the Vellore Corporation – has state-of-the-art training facilities. However, in reality, it is everything, but that.
When weightlifting blurred caste divisions in Sathuvachari
Two gymnasiums – Atlas and Gandhiji – which were mostly run on caste lines, sowed the seeds of weightlifting in the village. While close to a dozen gyms have sprung to life in recent times, the ethos of the sport is still the discipline of the youth and not the infrastructure.
From grinding stones used as weights to equipment of just passable quality, the gyms in Sathuvachari have come a long way. They have no specialized trainers, are dingey and compact, and the concept of a scientific diet is still alien. But it hasn’t deterred the morale of Sathuvachari.
Sathuvachari’s most prodigal son – Sathish Sivalingam – rose to fame when he won two consecutive gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. A product of the Atlas gym, Sathish went on to hog the limelight before fading away, owing to injuries. While he bowed out of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics on a whimper, he wouldn’t be a participant in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after missing the qualification tournament due to an injury. Sathuvachari, however, helped Satish Sivalingam land a job with the Southern Railways. He later moved to and currently trains at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala.
G Devan, K Mahendran and T Muthu are some of the other Olympians from the famed hamlet. No one even bats an eyelid when many people from a single family take up the sport. In Sathish’s case, his father was a national-level weightlifter, while his brother represented the state. Sathish, however, went one step ahead and brought laurels for the country.
After Sathish’s exploits, the Tamil Nadu government inaugurated a modern facility, with study rooms, first-aid rooms, and separate facilities for both genders, to help budding lifters. School students, close to 100 in number, have been undergoing specialized training at this center, however, it is only next to the famed dingey gymnasiums of Sathuvachari.