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Scientists help boost Indian team's chances

Athletes and coaches eager to shine at the Commonwealth Games will have a new ally in their quest for gold — science. Anika Gupta reports.

delhi Updated: Oct 02, 2010 23:59 IST
Anika Gupta

Athletes and coaches eager to shine at the Commonwealth Games will have a new ally in their quest for gold — science.
Thanks to R678-crore allocation for training the Indian team, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has nearly doubled the number of sports scientists it has on contract to test athletes' body fat, monitor their diets and even provide psychological counselling for pre-tournament nerves.

"We have been trying to figure out why our athletes lack an edge and how to change that," said G.L. Khanna, a sports physiologist who has been working with the SAI for 25 years. "There was sports science before, but this time there was much more emphasis on it."

Athletes, grouped by sport, have been training hard at camps for over a year. For the first time, many of them have been getting systematic help from an army of specially trained sports scientists. Physiotherapists have measured heart rate and recovery time to optimise athletes' general fitness.

Biomechanics experts calculated the best stride lengths and throwing angles to minimise stress. Sports psychologists counselled athletes on how to cope with the intense emotions of a tournament.

Some sports science institutions purchased new scientific equipment for the first time since the Asian Games in 1982. The National Institute of Sports in Patiala, where many training camps were held, purchased an ELISA assay machine, a device that can monitor hormone and enzyme levels.

It is rare for Indian athletes to get systematic help from sports scientists, partly because India's sports science establishment is limited. India has no formal accreditation system, and many leaders in the field have been trained and certified abroad.

"It will be a huge task to organise the system," said Jayashree Acharya, who teaches at the Lakshmibai National University of Physical Education in Gwalior and has trained athletes for Commonwealth Games before.

"In today's sporting events, a trifling margin makes a lot of difference," said one scientist who was involved in training athletes for the Games but isn't authorised to discuss it.