Sunday, July 22, 2007

Breeding ground for wrestlers

Maharashtra Herald, July 21, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com

PUNE: The Army Sports Institute (ASI), Ghorpadi is fast emerging as a breeding ground for churning out talented wrestlers, who have made a mark on the world stage. For the last couple of years, ASI has been instrumental in unearthing new talents in wrestling, thanks to the systematic implementation of ‘Mission Olympics’ scheme aimed at producing medal-winning matmen for 2008 Olympics and 2010 Commonwealth Games.
"We have identified three categories among the pool of wrestlers at our disposal. We have the juniors (aged 12-17), sub-juniors (aged 17-20) and seniors (aged 20+-26). "The basic idea is not just to have a smooth transition once the seniors fade away from the mat, but also to ensure wrestlers are performing on a consistent basis and not resting on past laurels," said Lt. Gen. Shivaji Babar, the man who supervises wrestling under the able leadership of Col. Satpal Ahelawat, Commandant of Army Sports Institute here.
Babar says wrestlers from ASI have been regularly in the medal bracket in recent times due to the hard work put in by Belarusian coach Leonid Liverman. "Liverman took charge of our wrestlers in 2004 and since March 2006 our wrestlers have started to show positive results at the international level," Babar said.
It is worth recalling that ASI grapplers have been enjoying a decent run in recent times. It all started at the 2006 Doha Asian Games where ASI wrestler Vinayak Dalvi won a bronze in 55-kg greco-roman event.
And in doing so, he created a landmark of becoming the first Indian wrestler to win an Asian Games medal after a hiatus of 38 years.
The 2006 Military World Wrestling Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, served another opportunity for ASI grapplers to showcase their prowess and Bhausaheb Patil made his strong presence felt, scooping up a silver in the 66-kg category.
The 'Pehelwans' from ASI continued their stellar run, bagging two bronze medals at the 2007 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in Canada. Manoj Kumar (84 kg) and Kanhyalal Yadav (55 kg) rose to the occasion to pick up gold in their respective weight categories.
Babar feels wrestlers must not get complacent and look to cash in on their present good run. "Our grapplers have done well for themselves so far. This is an important year for us with the world championship and world military games slated to be held later this year. Surely, the way our wrestlers are performing, we can definitely expect our wrestlers to be among the medals."
He, however, sounded a note of caution about preparations for the World Wrestling Championship. "The Baku (Azerbaijan) World Wrestling Championship assumes a lot of importance for us.
"The top eight finishers in each category will qualify for 2008 Olympics, and considering that we would want the maximum number of wrestlers to make the cut," Babar explained.
Startingly, Babar also revealed how wrestlers had to burn a hole in their pockets to take part in the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in Canada. "Our wrestlers had to foot their own expenses for the trip. Neither the Sports Ministry nor the Wrestling Federation of India were able to fund the wrestlers. We are talking to the Sports Ministry regarding this and are extremely hopeful of something positive emerging for the future," he opined with a splash of hope.

Gymnasts break new ground

Maharashtra Herald, July 18, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
PUNE: There was a time when Indian gymnasts couldn’t even mull taking part in international competitions. So appalling were our standards that it was never thought to be a worthwhile exercise to send our gymnasts for international meets.
But that appears to be a thing of the past. Indian gymnasts are now not just participating in international events, but beginning to make a statement.
The quartet of Sanjay More, Sampat Shirsat, Tensubam Singh and Babun Das (all from BEG, Khadki) not only did the country proud, but also brought smiles on the faces of gymnastic lovers with a stellar effort, bagging a coveted bronze in the group event of the recently-concluded 7th Asian acrobatic gymnastics championship at Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The talented quartet underwent strenuous training at the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) under coach K C Vadiraj and under the able supervision of Brig. Ashok Rathore. And what makes their achievement all the more remarkable is that they managed to script glory on their debut. "This is the first time that the Indian team has taken part in an acrobatic gymnastics meet. We never had the thought process going of sending our gymnasts for international meets, as we were not up to international standards," said Major C Vajiram, in-charge of gymnastics at Army Institute of Physical Education (AIPE) near Hadapsar.
Vajiram who himself is a former international gymnast, says the Indian gymnasts deserved a pat on their backs for putting up an eye-catching performance. "Not long ago we were way behind most of the top Asian countries. So, you can well imagine how much we were lagging behind," he said.
Vajiram was sanguine about the Kazakhstan bronze medal effort acting as a springboard for the sport to blossom in the country. "Sometimes you need a kick to reap laurels on the world stage. I think this is a very good beginning. I’m sure performances like this would pave the way for our gymnasts to attain such feats in future," he added.
AIPT coach K C Vadiraj is also on seventh heaven. "The boys put in the hard yards and full marks to them," said the man who has been training the triumphant foursome for the last three years.
Vadiraj made a pitch for improved facilities if the gymnasts have to sustain such performances. "We need a hi-tech gym. We also require the services of a well-qualified physiotherapist, who can ensure speedy recovery of injuries. Abroad, we’ve seen how gymnasts take lesser time to recover from injuries because of the availability of top-notch physios.
"In India, our gymnasts suffer injuries and lack of a good physio means the rehab programme of our gymnasts is longer and it forces them to skip national camps and tourneys," Vadiraj added with a ring of realism.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bahutule eyes September return

Maharashtra Herald July 13, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: Injuries can happen to any cricketer. But often a recovery path is crucial in shaping the career of a player. Sairaj Bahutule, Maharashtra Ranji skipper for the last two seasons, is in the middle of a rehab after undergoing an operation on his bowling arm and knows the essence of taking things easy.
“My rehabilitation process has come off well so far. I had this operation in April last and my doctors are pleased with my recovery,” Bahutule told the Herald yesterday.
The former India leg-spinning all-rounder revealed that the healing process in the post-operation period has given him enough encouragement to signal an early return to competitive cricket.
“Normally, an operation of this nature takes about six months to be in playing condition. But my progress has been nice and fine. I’m targeting a return to action at least by mid-September,” Bahutule exuded hope.
He said he would be working with the team’s physio on the sidelines of the Ranji probables camp. “It would help me fast-forward my comeback to competitive cricket,” he says with a smattering of excitement
The 34-year-old, who figured in 2 Tests and 8 one-day internationals for India, is kicked about the upcoming season. “Maharashtra is a developing side. There is flush of talent in the side. We have some promising youngsters like Yogesh Takwale and Nikhil Paradkar, who can take us to the next level. As a senior, I have a role in helping these young turks grow and fulfill their promise,” Bahutule puts things in perspective.
He, however, is not entirely chuffed with his performance last season. “To be honest, it wasn’t outstanding by any stretch of imagination. I thought my showing was average. I would like to better that this season.”
On Maharashtra’s chances this season, Bahutule has no doubts the team has the ammunition to turn in a decent display. “We have a good blend of youth and experience and that should work to our advantage,” he pointed out.

Shubhankar, Devika ready to climb performance ladder


Maharashtra Herald, July 11, 2007


BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: There are young and hungry for success. And the city-based paddlers -Shubhankar Renavikar and Devika Bhide have been making just the right noises on the table tennis table with sterling performances in the just-concluded state ranking table tennis championships in Nagpur.
Shubhankar, a sixth standard student of Muktangan High School, was unseeded in the cadet (under-12) boys’ singles event, where he countered mild resistance in disposing off S Rebello of Mumbai 11-8, 11-4, 11-7 to clinch the title.
Devika Bhide, a sixth standard student of Kalmadi High School, lapped up the cadet (under-12) girls’ singles crown. She used the Nagpur event to exact sweet revenge on Avanti Saoji of Nagpur winning 11-2, 11-9, 8-11, 11-6. It is worth remembering that Devika had finished second best to Avanti in the Borivali state ranking championship.
Former Indian paddler Ajey Sidhaye, who has been coaching the two promising paddlers for the past few years, is justifiably on cloud nine.
“Shubhankar went into the tourney loaded with confidence after having won the state ranking championship in Borivalli last month. He just enacted the same form here,” Ajey said.
The 49-year-old coach feels Shubhankar’s asset is his intelligence. “He (Shubhankar) knows his strengths and weaknesses very well. He possesses an superb forehand top-spin, but needs to work on his backhand strokes. He also has to improve his service,” observed Ajey, whose playing career spanned from 1972 to 1988.
Ajey, who donned the India colours at the Asian Junior championship in 1976, believes Shubhankar can go places if he has his feet firmly planted on the ground. “He has the potential to climb the success ladder. His parents are very supportive, either his father or mother always accompanies him to every tournament outside Pune. I hope he makes the most of all that and go on and play for the country.”
Ajey, however, rates Devika as a complete player. “She is young, but has a complete game. But she must learn to put her thinking cap on. She is playing and winning which is fine, but there would be occasions when when you have to read the game better and outthink your opponent. I’m sure with experience she would get it right,” Ajey signed off.

Monday, July 9, 2007

‘I was never approached by Zee’

Maharashtra Herald July 9, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: After being in the eye of the storm over reports that he may be plying his cricketing skills in Zee Group’s soon-to-be-launched Indian Cricket, League (ICL), Maharashtra Ranji batsman Dheeraaj Jadhav has said he was shocked and surprised to see his name crop up over his participation in the league.
“I was away in Chennai playing in a tournament and suddenly I heard all this talk about me joining the ICL. I'm still trying to find out that newspaper, which supposedly carried that news item. I have never been approached by anyone from Zee. Forget approaching, I don’t even know the format of ICL,” Jadhav told the Herald in an informal chat.
Jadhav said he was feeling perturbed about the whole thing. “It was tough on me for sure. MCA delivered a show-cause notice to which I have replied. I think they (MCA) are satisfied with my explanation. They now know the real thing,” Jadhav said with a sense of relief palpable on his face.
The 27-year-old left-handed opening batsman did not rule out vested interests working against him. “I just get the feeling that somebody is out there doing some dirty stuff,” he observed without divulging much.
However, Jadhav, who forced his way into the national squad for the fourth and final Test against Australia in 2004 on the back of a superb hundred he racked up for India against India ‘A’ in a warm-up game, was bullish that the ICL-joining episode won’t dent his chances of playing for Maharashtra in Ranji Trophy. “I don’t think so. I’ve no plans of playing for any other side or league. I take a lot of pride in playing for Maharashtra and I will continue to do so,” Jadhav added.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Let Dhanraj talk to me first: Carvalho

Maharashtra Herald, July 7, 2007
BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: There are times when a team dominates a game throughout, but yet ends up on the losing side. That’s what befell the Indian hockey team when they foozled twelve penalty corners against Argentina to go down 1-2 in a crunch league tie of the just-concluded Champions Challenge Cup hockey tourney in Boom, Belgium. It effectively spoilt whatever slender hopes India nourished of sealing a spot in next year’s Champions Trophy after the opening game loss to New Zealand.
So has the malaise of poor penalty corners conversions has once again started to haunt the side? National coach Joaquim Carvalho begs to differ. “Our penalty corner conversions in the Argentina game was a big let-down. It cost us dearly. But it’s not fair to say that our performance from the short corners was disappointing overall. I though Dilip (Tirkey) and Sandeep (Singh) fared pretty well in the other games,” Carvalho told the Herald.
Carvalho, who was a member of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics team, has comforting words for comeback lad Sandeep Singh. “Sandeep did whatever was expected of him. He’s a long road ahead of him. He would be even better served if he makes an effort to be more innovative while taking the corners,” he pointed out.
He was of the firm opinion that the Boom tourney was a massive learning curve for his young side. “The conditions were tougher than what we encountered in Kuala Lumpur during the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. The wet, chilly conditions posed a quite challenge for our boys and they came out with flying colours,” he said with a ring of satisfaction.
Veteran Dhanraj Pillai recently went on record saying that age shouldn’t be a criterion for national selection and that he should not be cold-shouldered for good. So what’s his take on that? “Let him (Dhanraj) talk to me. He should know better whether he’s good enough to play for the country. If he thinks he has it in him to don the Indian colours, that’s fine. I don’t think age should be an impediment in selection matters and Dhanraj is justified in thinking that way,” Carvalho said, carefully choosing his words.

Drama unfolds over controversial third goal

Maharashtra Herald July 6, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA

Pune: The very spirit of sportsmanship came into question after Friends Union ‘A’ players threatened to stage a walk -out after referee Feroze Shaikh ruled the third goal in favour of Pune Railway Police after Friends Union players protested that Amol Bhosle’s strike sailed wide.Umpire Feroze Shaikh told Herald that the ball indeed went inside the Friends Union goal and tore apart the net before going out. “It was clear that the ball had hit the net inside before sailing out,” he said after the match.The organising committee gave five minutes time to Friends Union to decide on whether to continue with the match or stage a walk-out. Fortunately, better sense prevailed among the Friends Union players. They played with more determination to score again to take the match down to the wire before the cops held out to emerge victorious.Friends Union coach Avinash Shiranpalli, however, downplayed the incident. “These things happen. It’s all part of the game. We have to take such things in our stride,” he said after the match.“They (Friends Union) had the option of playing under protest. We gave them five minutes to take a call, but they chose to continue playing. All is well that ends well,” said R B Makasare, a MHA official.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Discipline is the key: Nikolai Snesarev

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: The Athletic Federation of India (AFI) took its own sweet time before waking up to the reality of recruiting a foreign coach. Persisting with home-bred coaches have largely helped our athletes to script a podium-finish in multi-discipline events like Asian Games and Commonwealth Games over the last decade or so.
But when it comes to the larger picture of winning medals at the Olympics and World Championships, we are often left with more uncomfortable questions than answers.
Harbouring serious intentions of producing athletes of world-class material, the national federation inducted Belarusian Nikolay Snesarev to hone the skills of our middle and long-distance runners.
Ever since Snesarev took charge in March 2005, there has been a steady and sure surge in the fortunes of our middle and long-distance runners.
The feats of Surender Singh, Sinimole Paulose, Sunil Kumar, OPV Jaisha and Preeja Sreedharan have gone a long way in grabbing the eyeballs.
Mind you, big-tickets events like World Athletic Championships happening this August (Osaka) and the 2008 Beijing Olympics not far away, Snesarev knows it only too well that it is preposterous to even think about a medal-rush at Osaka. “See, I’ve been with the Indian team for just over two years, which is just not enough to churn out medal-winning athletes at meets like World meet and Olympics,” he told the Herald on the sidelines of the just-concluded National Combined Jump and Throw Championships.
The 59-year-old Belarusian coach is swelled with pride when he says that he has been successful in inculcating discipline in the athletes. “Talent is there, but the discipline was missing earlier. The runners have the wherewithal to progress to the next level. The big plus is that they have disciplined themselves both on and off the track, which is showing in the results.
“It is just a question of putting it together. Success doesn’t depend on any one factor. For instance, an athlete must get proper diet, systematic training, proper massage, enough recovery time, adequate acclimatisation etc. These are essential ingredients for an athlete to succeed,” the soft-spoken Snesarev explained even he answers a call on his cell.
Snesarev, who was the head coach of the erstwhile Soviet Union athletic team from 1980 to 1992, took the opportunity to reveal the thinking process of how the sport is run in Belarus and India. “The population of Belarus is just ten million, which is half of Delhi. Yet, Belarus logged 15 medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Believe it or not, one of our top official was sacked because the expectation of 25 medals went unfulfilled,” he says, flashing a grin.
Ask him about the potential stars in the making, Snesarev, declines to open up. “I don’t want to emphasise on individuals. It is not good for the others. But I must tell you that we’ve improved more than one-and-half-minute in men’s 10km, 45 seconds in men’s 5,000m and more than one minute in women’s 5,000m,” the bespectacled coach remarked.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

'Discipline is the key'


Maharashtra Herald July 3, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: The Athletic Federation of India (AFI) took its own sweet time before waking up to the reality of recruiting a foreign coach. Persisting with home-bred coaches have largely helped our athletes to script a podium-finish in multi-discipline events like Asian Games and Commonwealth Games over the last decade or so.
But when it comes to the larger picture of winning medals at the Olympics and World Championships, we are often left with more uncomfortable questions than answers.
Harbouring serious intentions of producing athletes of world-class material, the national federation inducted Belarusian Nikolay Snesarev to hone the skills of our middle and long-distance runners.
Ever since Snesarev took charge in March 2005, there has been a steady and sure surge in the fortunes of our middle and long-distance runners.
The feats of Surender Singh, Sinimole Paulose, Sunil Kumar, OPV Jaisha and Preeja Sreedharan have gone a long way in grabbing the eyeballs.
Mind you, big-tickets events like World Athletic Championships happening this August (Osaka) and the 2008 Beijing Olympics not far away, Snesarev knows it only too well that it is preposterous to even think about a medal-rush at Osaka. “See, I’ve been with the Indian team for just over two years, which is just not enough to churn out medal-winning athletes at meets like World meet and Olympics,” he told the Herald on the sidelines of the just-concluded National Combined Jump and Throw Championships.
The 59-year-old Belarusian coach is swelled with pride when he says that he has been successful in inculcating discipline in the athletes. “Talent is there, but the discipline was missing earlier. The runners have the wherewithal to progress to the next level. The big plus is that they have disciplined themselves both on and off the track, which is showing in the results.
“It is just a question of putting it together. Success doesn’t depend on any one factor. For instance, an athlete must get proper diet, systematic training, proper massage, enough recovery time, adequate acclimatisation etc. These are essential ingredients for an athlete to succeed,” the soft-spoken Snesarev explained even as he answers a call on his cell.
Snesarev, who was the head coach of the erstwhile Soviet Union athletic team from 1980 to 1992, took the opportunity to reveal the thinking process of how the sport is run in Belarus and India. “The population of Belarus is just ten million, which is half of Delhi. Yet, Belarus logged 15 medals at the 2004 Olympics. Believe it or not, one of our top official was sacked because the expectation of 25 medals went unfulfilled,” he says, flashing a grin.
Ask him about the potential stars in the making, Snesarev, declines to open up. “I don’t want to emphasise on individuals. It is not good for the others. But I must tell you that we’ve improved more than one-and-half-minute in men’s 10km, 45 seconds in men’s 5,000m and more than one minute in women’s 5,000m,” the bespectacled coach remarked.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

‘We are progressing at a slow pace’

Maharashtra Herald June 29, 2007

BY SUHRID BARUA
suhridb@sakalherald.com
Pune: The cupboard in the middle and long-distance running department looked bare for Indian athletics some years back. But if the performance of our athletes in the recent times is anything to go by, things do look heartening. The Athletic Federation of India (AFI) has realised the importance of reclaiming the past glory of long and middle-distance runners and roped in the services of Belarusian Nikolay Snesarev to look after our metric-milers.
His presence seemed to have yielded the desired results. “Snesarev has been asked to work specifically with the middle and long-distance runners. Our performance in these races has soared in the recent past. Surender Kumar Singh, Preeja Sreedharan, Sunil Kumar, OPV Jaisha and others have done exceedingly well. The progress of these runners is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Athletic Federation of India secretary Lalit Bhanot.
Among the present crop, Surender Singh has emerged as the most exciting prospect. The Armyman, who garnered a bronze in the mens’ 10,000m at the 2006 Doha Asian Games continued his great run capping off a superb double, winning the 5,000 and 10,000m at the 13th Federation Cup athletics championships in Kolkata last May.
Incidentally, Surender literally set the icing on the cake, obliterating the 18-year-old meet record of Gulab Chand (he clocked 14:01:33secs) timing 13:51:64 secs en route to sewing up the 5,000m gold.
Bhanot says athletics is no longer confined to the rural belts as it used made out to be. “Athletics used to be taken by youngsters from rural areas. But we’ve seen a growing trend where young turks from the rural pockets are taking up athletics,” Bhanot said.
He believes the future of Indian athletics is in good health. “We have put in place a strong junior programme, which is well streamlined. Things are looking up no doubt but at a slow pace,” Bhanot said with an air of optimism.
The AFI secretary singled out the exploits of triple jump sensation Renjith Maheshwary. “Look, there was a time when nobody could think of clearing 16 metres in triple jump. Today, we have a guy like Renjith Maheshwary who has gone on to clear 17 metres. It’s a good sign that we are faring well in metric-mile races as well in jump events,” he observed.
On the upcoming World Athletics Championships to be held in Osaka this August, Bhanot isn’t willing to stick his neck out. “Frankly speaking, I don’t see any hopes of a podium finish. We would have our task cut out. Of course, the big-ticket event would act as a springboard for our athletes to better their performances for the future,” he says with a shrug.
But he discounted the fact that there is a gulf of difference in the standards of Indian athletics and the world’s best. “We have bridged the gap on the international stage. We are not hugely lagging behind them as it is made out to be.”