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NRIs realise Olympic dreams in other colours

Even as a nation of 100 million searches for an athlete who will shine at the Olympics, Indian-origin gymnasts, wrestlers and hockey players are providing fans something to cheer about. A report by Saurabh Duggal.

india Updated: Jul 13, 2008 01:09 IST
Saurabh Duggal

For the first time in 80 years, Indian hockey won’t feature at the Olympics. But ironically, a group of home-bred stick wizards will be representing Canada at Beijing.

Even as a nation of 100 million searches for an athlete who will shine at the Olympics, Indian-origin gymnasts, wrestlers and hockey players are providing fans something to cheer about.

Indian-origin gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj won the silver for United States at the 2004 Athens Games. Alexi Grewal, a cyclist with roots in Punjab, won the gold in the 1984 Los Angles Olympics. And, Kulbir Singh, a Punjabi settled in London, was part of the British team that won the hockey gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Even as India was losing face in hockey, six Indian-origin players —Sukhwinder Singh, Ranjeev Deol, Ravi Kahlon, Bindi Singh Kullar, Wayne Fernandes and Ken Pereira — made it to Canada’s Olympic squad.

Except for Sukhwinder and Ranjeev Deol, who were born in India and Kenya, respectively, all four were raised in Canada. “We are happy that Canada is back in Olympics after 2000, but we will be missing India. We all have Indian roots and its absence is disappointing for every member of the Indian community here,” said Kahlon.

Wrestler Sandeep Kumar will represent Australia in the 84-kg class. “I’ll realise my Olympic dream in Beijing,” he told HT from Melbourne. Sandeep migrated to Australia from Sonepat’s Dhanana village in 2004 for better prospects. “I drive a taxi for a living. My day starts at 5 a.m. and after a two-hour practice, I drive a cab. In the evening I again get into the ring. But for the past month, I’ve been focusing just on wrestling.”

Like Sandeep, Sukhwinder too migrated to Canada in search of greener pastures and took to taxi driving. He represented India in the Asian Schools Championship held in Chandigarh in 1994.

“We train thrice a week and on other days look for jobs to earn a livelihood. I generally drive a taxi,” said Sukhwinder. He migrated to Canada in 1997 and became a citizen of that country two years back.

Former Punjab Police cop Jasveer Singh, who migrated to Canada in 2004, is the first Indian origin lifter to represent Canada at the Olympics. “Jasveer has made every Indian proud,” said coach Gurnam Singh.

“He settled in Canada for a better life, but continued to pursue his passion,” said Gurnam.