From the pages of an Olympic hopeful.
19th July 2012: ‘142 Indians set to represent the nation in London 2012’ read the sports page headline today. The team reportedly also includes 6 doctors, or whom they call ‘physios’ in the cities. Our district is yet to have one. But often a few medical representatives visit our training camps, for whom we try out new medicine samples. They say these pills make us faster and stronger. I wonder why they banned three of our fastest women on track.
When our honourable Minister of Sports came as the chief guest for an intra-district tournament last month, he had promised to appoint a new medical unit for our grounds very soon. Our Minister is a man of his word. All three training grounds in our district now have brandnew first aid kits. The sight of the new box injected a fresh dose of enthusiasm in the girls, who no more feared the idea of running barefeet on the cemented track. Our coach says that if India wins more than 5 medals this time round, the sporting scene will totally transform into something very big. I wonder if it will be bigger than MS Dhoni’s 200 crore endorsement deal… or as big as the race track in Noida.
But time is fast running out for me. I am already 21. If I cannot break into the national prelimineries soon, I will not be branded by any corporate agency. They invest in raw talents, and as shooter, Soma Shirur says, “It’s not just about your aim, others’ targets matter too”, I too will have to achieve young.
22nd July 2012: I am training hard and will have to win the inter-states this time and book a place for the next national championships. But coach Sir tells me that I will also require new shoes for the state trials. My right shoe doesn’t have a sole, but I have found substitutes for the laces. Father has given me the naara from one of his pyjamas which he doesn’t wear anymore. One of the boxing girls distributed sweets among all of us today. She was very happy since she received her first pair of gloves today. Twice she was barred from gaining entry into the state championships because she didn’t have gloves. The state government provides kits only for the state winners. I don’t know if they will allow me with one sole.
23rd July 2012: Coach Sir keeps motivating me. He tells me that once I cross the state hurdle, the journey ahead will become a lot smoother and easier. He says that once an athlete breaks into the national scene, they are given government jobs in the Army or in the Railways. But I tell him that I already have a job, I clean the train toilets. But being the nice man that he is, he says he has bigger dreams for me.
The newspapers and magazines always keep stating, as if a fact, that every aspiring athlete in India wants to run faster than the ‘Flying Sikh’, every boxer wants to punch harder than Mary Kom, but all I want is a government job. After all, only that can be my certifcate of success. And if you are a railway employee under the sports quota, they say you don’t need to worry about your finances, your office attendance or the occassional call of duty.
24th July 2012: As this year’s Olympics draw closer by the day, the almost celebratory mood of expectations in the country seems to burst out of the morning papers. Independent India will turn 65, but India at the Olympics will celebrate its 102nd birthday, with the expectations being at the highest ever. I vividly remember our ‘so close, yet so far’ performance in Beijing 2008, which also stands as our best Olympic showing ever – with 3 individual medals, we finished 50th. A friend of mine pointed out to me, Mongolia was ahead. So what, it was our best show ever.
And I am sure we will better our performance this time round. I believe our athletes’ confidence will only be boosted if Suresh Kalmadi Sir assures his presence at the games. Bahadur Singh Sir, our national coach also welcomed his anticipated presence at the games saying it would only “encourage” the players. And we can forgive Mr. Kalmadi for addressing Abhinav Bindra as ‘Avinash’, days after the latter won the Olympic gold.
I am sure Mr. Bindra didn’t ask for an apology. He’s a wise man. He knows what it takes to be a household name as an athlete in India, after all, he is ‘Mr. India Official: Thanks for Nothing’. Mr. Bindra is an honest man. He wrote in his book, “In India, we must swim through chaos on the way to a medal. It almost feels as if our medals are more meaningful, considering what we go through to win one.”
I don’t know how it feels like to be an Olympic medalist, but I too am an athlete in this very country, where boxers practice in odorous halls, sweaty atmosphere, under leaking roofs. I am a female athlete in this country where girls don’t dare to use the toilets designated for them. I don’t have access to diet charts and proper medical care, but yes, the latest samples sure have increased my thrust.
26th July 2012: Recent headlines in the papers prove my Coach Sir right. The government has announced out of turn promotions for athletes (central government employees) who win international medals for the country. I shall now push even harder towards the national championships. Who says sports is a secondary activity in India? So what if I have to praise the administrators to the roofs to get shoes from the state to participate in the championships? I trust our senior citizens at the helm of sports administration in our country, who promise jobs for us, even if they can’t guarantee a level playing field for us.
The papers are also asking for total corporate control in sports administration in our country. I am against the idea. Will Gold Quest invest on a shoe-less athlete? No. Will Mittal’s Trust put faith in me, an athlete who has trained her entire life in conditions considered inhuman for the American livestock? I don’t think so.
Yes, we athletes do live an impoverished life, which is dependent on government-funded federations, but do my friends and I have any other option? Yes, I too want to win an Olympic gold for India, I too want to realise Milkha Singh’s lifelong dream of watching an Indian runner win an Olympic gold, but I also have my needs to cater to – my need for a proper roof for my family, my need for a humanly diet.
28th July 2012: The dates for the next state and national championships have been announced. I am training harder than ever. Meanwhile, Coach Sir has fixed an appointment for me with the state coach. He says the authorities will help me in getting a new kit if I can donate a percentage of my earnings from the championships to the athlete’s welfare fund. In fact, the meeting has been fixed for all the girls in our camp.
I can feel myself inching closer towards realising my dreams. I want to win medals for my country. Then I shall tour the country, pick up checks from government bodies and earn monetary rewards frombureaucratic departments for my performances. Yes, I want to win medals. Yes, I want a government job.