Young Indian athletes following in the footsteps of veterans

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 10, 2016 14:51 IST
The achievements of athletes like Abhinav Bindra have the potential to be echoed by the younger generation of Indian sport stars that have come into their own recently. (Vipin Kumar/ HT Photo)

Middle-distance runner Beant Singh hails from Karnal in Haryana. Rifle marksman Swapnil Kusale’s determination to do an Abhinav Bindra has seen the Kolhapur lad emerge as one of the best hopes for the future. Junior tennis player from Guntur, Pranjala Yadlapalli, is ranked 15th in the world and wants to make an impact on the professional tour.

Beant, Swapnil and Pranjala are not isolated names wanting to make it big. There are hundreds of determined juniors emerging from mofussil areas and toiling all day to don India colours. The heartening thing is that most are being supported by their families.

The exploits of Saina Nehwal, Beijing Olympic Games gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra, Vijender Singh and MC Mary Kom are the best tonic for these athletes. But only time will tell whether, like in most disciplines, promising juniors go on to fulfil their potential at the top level.

When Saina burst onto the scene, people sat up to take note of the shuttler’s achievements. With Saina, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap dominating the top-20 world rankings for some time now, the question being asked is who are the next set of Indian juniors who will take the world by storm.

Badminton player Siril Verma in the Yonex BWF World Junior Championships 2015 Men's singles final in Lima, Peru. (AFP Photo)

With the likes of young Siril Verma (world No 1 junior), Ruthvika Shivani Gadde and Lakshya Sen moving in the right direction, the junior scenario seems to be set. While Siril’s World Junior Championships final showing at Lima last year grabbed attention, Ruthvika and Lakshya claimed international titles. Ruthvika has been on the radar for a while and the 18-year-old is the current senior women’s national champion. In a country where doubles is mostly sidetracked, the duo of MR Arjun and Chirag Shetty has been giving good performances.

Charismatic Sania

Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi are legends, but what Sania Mirza has done to Indian tennis is second to none. Her charisma has inspired the younger generation to take up tennis. If one talks of promise, one need not look beyond Pranjala Yadlapalli and Karman Kaur Thandi.

Pranjala Yadlapalli of India in action against Hye Ran Yun of Korea in the Future Stars U16 Final during the BNP Paribas WTA Finals. (Getty Images)

The 16-year-old from Guntur is currently ranked 15th in the world and had a great last season. Having won the doubles and singles at the Asian Closed Junior Championship in April, she also claimed an ITF Grade 1 tournament in Thailand. She ended last year winning the doubles at the prestigious Orange Bowl, an ITF Grade A tournament in Florida.

Karman Thandi winning the BNP Paribas WTA Finals tennis at the Singapore Sports Hub on October 20, 2014 in Singapore. (Getty Images)

Thandi too has been moving in that direction. With good performances the past two seasons, the 17-year-old made the US Open juniors third round and is currently focusing on the seniors. Mihika Yadav, BP Nikshep and Alex Solanki have also had good wins the past season. Mahak Jain and Sacchitt Sharma played well to win the Road to Wimbledon Finals, a U-14 event.

With quite a few youngsters on the threshold, time will tell if the next Sania or Leander will emerge from their midst.

Running the distance

The passion in athletics is also heartening, and it seems Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has become an important destination for athletes from across the country. The facilities may not be optimum, but the aura of the venue attracts the fraternity.

Quite a few athletes have even created ‘dugouts’ in the vicinity of the stadium to realise their aspirations, and middle-distance runner Beant Singh is one of them. Coach Dinesh Rawat says, “Beant is not the only hardworking athlete. The desire to achieve something big is there in every junior now.”

Four years ago, Beant’s parents sent him to Delhi from Karnal, and after trying his hand at wrestling, he switched to athletics. Beant, who turns 17 next month, cherishes the day he took the decision. Today, he is the No 1 junior and among the top-three in the senior category.

States doing their bit

There is a myth that states don’t do enough to groom talent. Rifle marksman Swapnil Kusale is a shining example. Kusale’s parents didn’t have deep pockets and the dream of becoming a top-notch shooter would have died a premature death. However, Maharashtra’s policy to tap talent in rural regions, according to former international shooter Deepali Deshpande, helped Kusale choose prone rifle shooting.

Kusale joined the junior national squad in 2013, and hasn’t looked back. The 20-year-old dominated the men’s 50m prone rifle event at the 59th National Championship. He also picked up bronze in 3-position prone, sending a warning signal to Olympic Games medallist Gagan Narang.

Untapped talent

Tribal areas have long been the source of talent in archery and the groundwork done by the Tata Archery Academy (TAA) in tapping archers in Jharkhand is one of the reasons why India has made rapid strides in the sport.

Teenage archer Binod Swansi, who trains at TAA, is the one to watch out for. “Don’t be surprised if he excels in the Olympics,” says his coach Dharmender Tiwary. Those following him since 2006 weren’t surprised when Swansi made his international debut in 2011. He was a member of the senior team that won bronze at the 2013 Asian Grand Prix at Bangkok. Currently, Swansi is gearing up for the upcoming South Asian Games. It won’t be surprising if he upsets seasoned players to move into the team.

Hotbed of talent

The Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC) stands out as much for its rustic character as for inducing a charm on athletes the moment they step into its premises. Otherwise, how does one explain the emergence of so many world-class boxers from just one club in India? Made famous by Vijender Singh, BBC is now eyeing glory in women’s boxing. Last year, Savita Gothra, Sakshi Dhanana and Soniya Gothra made the podium at the Junior World Championship in Taipei. Savita and Sakshi won in 52kg and 54kg, while Soniya bagged silver in 48kg.

Federation chips in

With the rights to host the U-17 World Cup in 2017 bagged, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has its task cut out as it tries to ensure India do well in a sport their seniors are ranked 163 in the world. The AIFF set in motion a process to build the squad in February, 2013.

Fighting age fraud issues and following a series of chopping and changing a bunch of 26 in now camping in Goa under coach Nicolai Adam. But according to an AIFF official, this is still not the final probables’ list.

Since June last, the squad has been divided into two groups that have been playing in Tehran, Germany and Dubai.

Adam has been trying to find the right mix for the World Cup and the team that trounced Maharashtra XI 8-0 in its first exhibition match at the Cooperage, threw up a few names. The ones to make a mark are striker Aman Chhetri, midfielder Suresh Singh Wangjam and Saurabh Meher. Adam could still change the squad if there are good performances against the U-16 team in the next few exhibition matches.

Across all disciplines, especially in the age-group stages, India have struggled to contain issues like age fudging. But there is a newfound enthusiasm among youngsters, which is heartening.

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