Despite sending a big contingent, our performance at the Rio Olympics wasn’t good at all. Barring Lalita Babar setting a national record in the women’s 3000m steeplechase and reaching the final, others failed miserably at the world stage.
This I believe happened because there was no proper planning. For a good medal haul in sports, there should be long-term planning. I believe eight years are too short. It should be no less than 12 years. For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, many nations might have started preparing in 2008 or earlier. So, we should think beyond 2020 right now. There might be criticism, but that’s the way forward to excel in sports these days.
In my view, long-term planning with a blend of international meets is vital for overall improvement. But it’s missing these days. Haphazard planning does ruin chances of winning medals. Top Indian athletes should not only focus on training but participate in the European circuit. It starts in May and goes on till September and gives the opportunity to evaluate performance and improve for major events like the Olympics.
I believe staying in a healthy atmosphere is another factor that shouldn’t be ignored when preparing for major events. After achieving a certain level, top athletes should spend a major part of training and competition on foreign soil as it would build up confidence and add to experience.
Initially medals shouldn’t be on the minds of the athletes, but they must emphasise on participating in as many events as possible. The hard work would pay off and results would gradually follow. I guess Rio-bound athletes, particularly the core group of athletes selected for the women’s 4x400m relay team, were busy in 2014. Serious preparation started late, which is why the national team ended up seventh in the heats in Rio.
There was hope from middle-distance runner, Tintu Lukka, but she too faded in the 800m heats.
For good results, focus should be on the second string. We only look at the core group of athletes, but ignore the next batch. There should even be a third string for the future. That would help narrow the gap between the best and the fourth- or fifth-placed athlete. Healthy competition at domestic level would also give good results at international level.
Spotting talent at 10 to 12 years of age is the way to build for the future. It would give coaches an opportunity to focus on the technical aspects of training in the formative years. Without proper technique, you can’t survive in the long run in track and field events.
I have observed that focus is not on juniors. Majority of them don’t have the right kind of technique. When youngsters graduate to the senior level and compete against the best in the business, they lag behind due to poor basics skills.
The government and the federation should also involve former internationals in planning. Elite athletes should be invited to hold seminars and workshops on a regular basis. Interacting with international athletes will motivate youngsters and keep them more focused.
There is no injury prevention and management system in the country. There aren’t good sports medicine experts to treat a minor niggle. It hampers training. To keep the athletes on the track, there should be an abundance of modern facilities at the grassroots. And above all, good coaches who believe in a clean system should be part of long-term planning. Otherwise it would be difficult to groom youngsters and keep them on the right track. Unless we have depth in all events, it would be difficult to excel at the international level.
(The writer is India’s only athletic world championships medallist)