Indian gymnastics vaulted to glory in 2010 when it made history with podium finishes at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. However, the gains have been squandered and the sport has landed with a thud due to poor planning ahead of the London Games, resulting in India's best hope missing an Olympic berth.
Male gymnast Ashish Kumar, the star of India's showing two years ago, has squarely blamed infighting in the national federation for the sad state of affairs.
After excellent results in 2010, according to Ashish, the players were given step-motherly treatment with nobody taking care of training. "The Olympics preparatory camp, instead of starting after a short break of two or three weeks (after Asian Games), began after a gap of over five months. It robbed players of vital training," he told Hindustan Times from his base in Allahabad.Huge amount of the tax-payers' money was invested two years ago to build the team for the future, including the London Olympics. Ashish, hailing from a modest background in Allahabad, was the toast of the nation after his podium finishes in the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. He went on to claim a bronze medal in the Guangzhou Asian Games, which was remarkable considering the strength of the field, dominated by gymnasts from China, Korea and Japan. But instead of building on the achievements, Indian gymnastics lost its spring.
Training gone awry
What went wrong? In 2011, two months prior to the world championships in Tokyo, an advance training camp held in London under the guidance of foreign coach Vladimir Chertkov proved disastrous, says Ashish. "The training was unscientific," he said, explaining that he was left fatigued at the world meet due to the long hours of training in London without breaks.
Chertkov, an American coach of Russian origin who had guided Ashish to glory in 2010, left as the national coach after the Tokyo championships.
The Olympic preparatory camp then held in Delhi in May-June last year did no good as there were no proper training apparatus, even a landing pit was missing.
All this while, the top Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) officials were busy setting the house in order as there are two rival units at the national level. Although Jaspal Khandari, president of one faction, denied infighting, the two factions are engaged in two court cases. "The players tried their best in the qualifying event in Tokyo but missed the berth as they weren't able to click on a given day," Khandari said, explaining away the mess up.
Ashish is now pinning hopes on the world body to allot him a wild card. The chances are bleak but his coach DK Rathore is hopeful as the governing body is yet to allot two of the six wild cards. The decision, said Rathore, will be taken in April. "Since Ashish is a medallist in the CWG and Asiad, the world body might consider," he said.
The inability to win an Olympic berth has also affected funds for the sport with the sports ministry excluding it from its Operation Excellence scheme for London-bound squads.