Pankaj Advani bagged India’s first gold medal in the Asian Games in English billiard singles, defending the one he had won in Doha four years ago. He has likened the achievement to an Olympic win, since the Asiads are the biggest multi-sporting event for cue sports. He couldn’t add to his tally but says he is extremely pleased with the outing given that India added a silver and two bronxe medals to the tally.
“Now a lot more people are noticing the game since it was telecast live, and the victory ceremony, covered by all the news channels. Suddenly, there’s so much awareness and curiosity amongst youngsters,” beams Advani. Life in the Asiad Village, he admits though, was far from exciting. There was no TV, theatre or any kind of entertainment. And being a vegetarian, he couldn’t sample the exotic creepy crawlies but had to stick to pizza and pasta.
“It was too far from the city centre to venture out often, so I spent most of my time watching matches. I was a big hit with the lady volunteers. May be the gold medal helped,” he grins, adding that the win has brought along endorsement offers. He was also offered the role of a celeb participant in a reality show but had to turn it down because of his hectic schedule.
Taking a cue
There’s talk of cue sport being dropped from the next Asiads. He’s hoping that won’t happen because even though they are playing Worlds and Asians every year as compared to the Olympics, CWG and the Asiads that comes once in four years, the level of competition is as good at these Games. He doesn’t even grouse about the shortened format, believing that 6 Red Snooker and 100 Up Billiards, with better packaging, can make the sport more TV-friendly and popular.
After the rousing CWG, India’s performance at the Asiads has disappointed many. But not Advani, who argues that there is no comparison in the standards of competition between the two Games and the medal tally reflects that. “As a sportsman, I know what it takes to train and compete at such a level so every medal we won, irrespective of its colour, brought me joy. But we need to think big like China and win at least 50 golds in the next Asian Games,” he says.
How have the Chinese raced so far ahead? He points to their well-structured sporting system, with the government giving support through infrastructure, training, exposure and financial stability. “And unlike India, China is a multi-sporting nation, which is why they are winning golds in almost every discipline,” he reasons. Quiz him on his family’s reaction to his golden moment and he admits that his mother and brother almost suffered heart attacks during the humdinger of a final.
“A sportsperson messaged me saying, ‘You are the dashing prince of Indian sport,’” he chuckles. So, are the princesses beating a path to his door? Anyone special? “I don’t kiss and tell,” he says. Thought of life without a cue? “No one would know who Pankaj Advani was if I hadn’t taken up the cue. Billiards and snooker are my identity.” So, what is the next big goal? He says, “Maintaining the good run in the next season.”
Five ways to win a gold medal
Do what you love
Train with passion
Believe in yourself
Follow the plan
An hour of fitness training
Two sessions of billiards or snooker practice
On a rare free day, sleep and spend quality time with friends and family