From Day One at Rio, people expected medals from our athletes, but as the Games progressed they became impatient. This is a positive sign, because the popularity of sports can be gauged from people’s expectations. Since Abhinav Bindra broke the barrier in Beijing by winning gold, each time an Indian athlete steps on the Olympic arena, people expect at least a medal.
The gold and two bronze at Beijing, and two silver and four bronze at London added to the momentum of Olympic sports in the country.
Since we are in the zone, it is time to start preparing our athletes for medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Producing an Olympic champion requires determination, discipline and top-quality facilities.
Now that we have bagged Olympic medals with limited infrastructure, we need state-of-the-art facilities across the country to reach the next level. For example, we have limited facilities for gymnastics, and to my knowledge there are only a handful of centres that have facilities for the sport. Dipa Karmakar made us proud by finishing fourth in a sport where there is a huge gap between global and Indian standards; we can have more Dipas making the country proud with better infrastructure.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games not only helped spread awareness about Olympic sports in the country, it also introduced the trend of having year-long coaching camps. Earlier, we used to have two-three-month camps before multi-discipline games and rest of the time the players trained on their own.
Thanks to the CWG, we started to have eight-nine-month camps in a year and that has helped raise standards. This should continue and players should get the best of facilities, including physiotherapists, masseurs and scientific backup.
The one thing that makes a difference between making and missing the podium is scientific support system. We can’t afford to ignore this facet any longer.
From diet to intake of nutrition, we depend on hit-and-miss methods. Rather, there should be a full-time team working on the subject. Each sport has its requirements, so there should be specialised dieticians attached to different sports.
Recovery experts should be attached to each team and there should be proper recovery equipment and infrastructure at training centres.
During the Rio Olympics, the purple patches on the back and shoulders of Michael Phelps put the cupping therapy in the news. This is part of the recovery system and very few Indian athletes have heard of this.
In England, while training for professional boxing, I have a set of experts working with me, including a recovery expert, and these things have made a difference in my performance. Earlier, recovery was only limited to a good massage, steam or ice bath.
Producing results is not only the responsibility of players or coaches, national sports federations too have a role to play. In boxing, not having a federation has had a negative impact on our performance at the international arena.
For the last two years, there has been no national championship and no new entrant to the national camp. In London, there were eight boxers, but in Rio the number was down to three.