Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Open Letter to Salman Khan: Indian Contingent's Goodwill Ambassador for 2016 Rio Olympic Games

Dear Mr.Khan,

The Oxford dictionary defines a goodwill ambassador as “A person serving (usually unofficially) to promote goodwill between countries, institutions, etc.; now chiefly a well-known person (especially a celebrity) appointed by a charity or other organization to publicize its activities or promote a specified cause."

The Indian Olympic Association recently appointed you as the goodwill ambassador of the Indian contingent for the Rio Olympic Games this summer.
You were chosen above equally (or higher) renowned actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.

Moreover, you were chosen above the REAL heroes- Milkha Singh, PT Usha, Sachin Tendulkar, and many more..

                                                  Video Courtesy: Times Now YouTube Channel 

In your interview you expressed “ek hota hai na aadmi peeche se dhakka marne wala, support karne wala, woh respect ki ek baat hoti hai, ke yaar he is supporting us, we need to give our best”

I guess you meant that the athletes respect you, and if you support them, chances of them being motivated to win a medal at Rio will go high.

I am sorry, Mr.Khan. But here is the truth:

Athletes train day and night their entire lives for this one moment to represent our motherland at this one event that comes once in 4 years, with the aim to win a medal and see the tricolor go high. It takes years and years of hard work and perseverance to produce an Olympic athlete. Sacrifices are made every single day. Strict & disciplined regime, financial inadequacy, lack of infrastructure, uncertainty of a win, and a short lived athletic career: these athletes have made tons of sacrifices in their journey to the Olympic Games. They are motivated enough Mr.Khan. They have their skills that they have been nurturing all this while to support themselves. They have their coach’s support. They have their family's support.They have the IOA and their federation’s support. What they truly need, and what this country needs, is- the COLLECTIVE SUPPORT of the 1.2 billion people that we all are.

Something you get when a big blockbuster is released on screen.

The athletes want to be recognized on the streets like you are, Mr.Khan. They want the media to publish their stories and achievements more often than it is done now.

 The IOA has appointed you as the goodwill ambassador to promote Olympic Sports and our jeweled athletes to the people of this nation who are still unaware of these "unsung heroes". Its their moment Mr.Khan. Please don’t steal it away from them. We will all watch Sultan, because we all love you anyway. The IOA chose you because you are influential and your words mean a lot to the Indians. They all follow you and are inspired by you. Your Being Human campaign has changed the lives of so many Indians. If you ask them to go play badminton, athletics, wrestling, boxing, table tennis, or any other Olympic Sport, they will listen you. If you ask them to watch the Olympic games, they will do so. If you post a selfie with an unsung hero, they will share the post.

The jersey you are wearing, Mr.Khan, kindly respect it. For many Olympians, including myself, it is hard EARNED. It’s our reward for the long hours spent on the court trying to get better in our respective sports. CRICKET, Mr.Khan, is NOT an Olympic Sport.

“Heroine hai Sania Mirza (sarcasm), Vijender hai, Sushil Kumar hai, CRICKET MEIN TOH HAI HI” those were your words.

And, Vijender Singh turned pro last year, Mr.Khan, whether he can compete at the Olympic
Games this summer or not, will be clear this June.

Your 100 days to Rio message: “Kuch na Kuch leke aao yaar” (Please bring something atleast friends) 

I fail to understand, what does this even mean?

Would have been great if you had said “My friends (yaar), do your best, results will follow, the entire nation is with you, including myself. Jai Hind.”
Pic Courtesy: Google Images

The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

THIS IS WHAT the people of INDIA need to learn.

Yours Lovingly,
A former Olympian & a proud Indian.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sharath Kamal: Sacrifices each day for this one day!

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only option you have. And that’s exactly what India’s star paddler Sharath Kamal realized after he qualified for the Rio Olympics 2016.

As I was following the live scoring, my heart skipped a beat each time he lost a point. A passionate Sharath Kamal fan, I was shattered when he didn’t get his golden ticket in the 1st stage.

Sharath injured his back during the 1st day of the tournament and was plastered all over to keep going on for the 2nd stage. In the 1st stage, he lost to his teammates Soumyajit Ghosh and Anthony Amalraj finishing 3rd in the group.

But the 33-year-old never gave up, because giving up is never an option for him. Although every inch of body was in pain, Sharath entered the 2nd stage with only one fact in mind- 

Your body can stand almost anything, its always the mind you have to convince.

The draw was favorable, but his opponents pushed him till the end, every point was strategically planned and every shot was executed fierceless.

He beat Iran's Noshad Alamiyan in a nail biting 7 setter to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Sharath was trailing 1-3 but his resilience and determination got out the best in him. Sharath won 4-3 (12-14, 11-6, 3-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6).

His first reaction to me: “I am enormously tired, I have so much pain in my back. But I am really very happy, lot of emotions went through this whole tournament. I was sure I would qualify by my World ranking. Then all of a sudden I had to play the 2nd stage, I was stressed, could not sleep all night.”

This will be Sharath’s 3rd Olympic appearance after 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing).

He failed to qualify for the London games in 2012, a big blow for the legend. Many said that its time to call it a day, but Sharath had different plans ahead.

“I have been working the last 4 years with the Olympic games in mind. With hard work I started playing my best table tennis after moving to Germany and achieved my best world ranking ever”

He reached his career highest ranking- No.32 in May 2015. He also reached the round of 32 in the 2015 World Championships, and in the Asian Cup the same year, he beat 3 top 20 world ranked players. Indeed, his training in Germany was paying off. He plays for the club Borussia Dusseldorf alongside teammates Timo Boll, Panagiotis Gionis and Patrick Franziska. He also lead India to win its first ever 2nd division title in the recently concluded World Team Table Tennis Championship at Malaysia this March.

But these achievements come along with a lot of sacrifices he made each day to achieve his Olympic dream.

“Life was hard without family as my wife felt that they were taking my focus away from Table Tennis. So they decided to move back to India so that I could focus on my training.” confessed Sharath.

Sharath is not only a husband but also a proud father to his beautiful 5-year-old daughter. 

In a recent interview Sharath revealed that in the last 5 years he has not spent even two years in total with his daughter. His wife is managing everything so that he can concentrate only on his sport.

Missing those “first” moments of his own kid as she discovers life each day, could be gloomy, but his determination towards his game and the support from his family is commendable.

“I had it in my mind that I would qualify for the Olympic Games this time. I am glad I did it. But I need to be in the best of my shape for the Rio Games”

Sharath is focused, he is strong, knows his strengths and weakness well. He is a man who always has a plan.

He expressed his goals on his Facebook Page:

 "But this was not my main goal, the goal is in Rio"

The goal is probably another milestone: India's first ever Olympic medal in Table Tennis. 

We a billion people of this beautiful country are with him, we wish he recovers well from this tournament and is ready to create history at Rio.

The clock is ticking, and Sharath will be ready.

111 days to Rio. 


Friday, April 15, 2016

Beijing 2008 to Rio 2016: Journey of an Olympic Coach-- Sandeep Gupta

8 years back around this time, one day changed the lives of two people completely. In March 2008, as I qualified for Beijing Olympics and made that first call to my coach, Mr.Sandeep Gupta, our lives changed.

We started working together in 1997 and 11 years later, in 2008, together we achieved what only a few can dream of- we both made it to the Olympic Games.

Being a coach is hard, when an athlete succeeds, he/she gets all the spotlight. And when the same athlete fails, the world (sometimes the athlete himself) blames the coach.

But our relationship is different. He is not only my coach, but something more than that. He’s a friend, a mentor and a father-like figure for me.
Myself and Sandeep Sir
Today, 8 years later, his life has changed, all over again.

His 2nd most priced possession (I will shamelessly claim to be his #1, forever), Manika Batra, has qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Blessed is a coach to receive a good news of that magnitude again after 8 years.

I saw him in tears when Manika won the National Championship early this January. As I hugged him tight, I felt the sense of accomplishment.

Although I am miles apart from him today to hug him again and salute his hard work and perseverance, I can feel what he’s feeling now.

He told me, “Neha, I cannot believe this”.

I said “ Sir, I knew it was coming.”

Indeed. He tells me of his struggles, what is in it for a coach working 17-18 hours towards a sport so niche in a country like India. He always has a plan. Cannot remember the last time he took his wife out for a movie, because training his students for the Olympics and other tournaments has always been outmost importance to him. His students are his number one priority, even more than his own family life.

He had a strategy, a vision, a goal very clear. He worked smart on making Manika an improved version of me. We both have the same playing style, but he taught her techniques needed to be ahead of the curve as the game continued to evolve. A playing style that is like art, he conquered it, and taught us how to master that. He is a magician. Despite ample weaknesses in both me and Manika, he bought the best out of both of us.


His struggles over the years are commendable, his ability to analyze what’s ahead is admirable.

And I assure, a whole bunch of young Olympians, National Champions are being nurtured.

From 2008 to 2016, he has come a long way. People always criticized this playing style. But that never shook his confidence, he believed in his ideas and hard work. He trusted his students.

 What seemed to be impossible, he did it. Not only once (Olympics 2008), but twice. (Olympics 2016)