A day before she left India for the London Olympics, an indigestion problem had badminton champ Saina Nehwal in tears. Despite her worries however, she ensured she went on a virtual fast to avoid aggravating the problem.
“My daughter’s only focus is her diet and her game. She has always made it a point to never miss gym, practice and outdoor sessions. She was approached by several companies for endorsement deals, especially before the Olympics, but she did not accept them as she felt it would affect her practice – something she never compromises on. In fact she turned down an endorsement deal of Rs. 1 crore recently because she wanted to concentrate on the game,” says Nehwal’s father, Harvir Singh.
A strict and disciplined routine, dedication, determination, focus, love for the game and tremendous support and encouragement from friends and family have brought the world number five to this level. Another good thing about the ace shuttler is that she’s always curious to learn more about the game.
“She cries when she loses a match. We make her understand that winning and losing are two sides of the same coin. She then tries to learn from her mistakes and vows to perform better in the next match. That’s what keeps her momentum going,” says Singh.
At just 22, when most girls and even other players of her age like an outing or shopping after rigorous practice, Nehwal prefers to spend time at her training academy. She leaves home at 6.30am, drives to the academy where she trains till 7pm with a break for about two hours. In her spare time, she likes reading biographies and books on social science. “She has read biographies of Sachin Tendulkar, Abhinav Bindra and her coach P Gopichand. She also uses her netbook to catch up on her opponents’ training and matches. She’s a great student of the game and understands the technical points very well,” says Singh. She doesn’t fear any of her competitors, not even the Chinese. “The top five players above her are all from China and she has defeated four of them. Only the top seed Wang Yihan is a player she has never beaten. But she knows that none of them is invincible,” he adds.
Her parents have played a huge role in Nehwal’s success, ensuring her clothes are washed and her kit kept ready while she trains.
Queen of the ring
Once inside the boxing ring, MC Mary Kom is confident, mentally strong, fearless and has the killer instinct. The five-time world champion and mother of two hopes these traits ensure she does not return home empty handed from London. “She told me that she was not going for herself but for our country. She wants to win for her nation and her family and takes competition very seriously,” says her husband, K Onler Kom.
It has been a battle for survival. Being the eldest, Mary Kom helped her parents work in the fields, cutting wood, making charcoal and fishing. The passion for boxing developed gradually and she learnt the finer nuances of the sport before excelling at national and international levels. The problems, however, did not end here.
“After we got married in 2005, our folks didn’t want her to continue boxing. She had even thought of giving up and would cry often. But that’s when I told her that she should fight on as it has taken so many years for her to reach this level,” says her husband. After the birth of their sons in 2007, Mary took a break for some time but bounced back within a year. Since then, her performance has been consistently good. However, when the pugilist is upset after losing a bout, she refrains from eating or training. “She’s a very sensitive person. She always calls me between matches and thanks me for being a support and for taking care of our children when she’s travelling or training,” he says.
Wrestling for gold
“I still remember the day when Sushil Kumar came to my akhara to learn wrestling. He was just 11 years old and weighed 28kg. He started training and fell in love with the sport. Once he started winning competitions, he has never looked back,” says Sushil Kumar’s coach and one of the country’s veteran wrestlers, Mahabali Satpal.
For the last 18 months, Kumar has trained rigorously for eight hours on an average of six days a week, starting out early at 4am and going on till late in the evening. This includes a gym and football sessions as well. “Sushil is very strong, both physically and mentally. Despite being the world champion, he is very grounded and humble. He is technically sound and observes all the nuances of the game. His ability to attack and defend is commendable,” says Satpal adding that Sushil is a great student of the game.