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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

Athletics

Be the change
Ajai Masand, Hindustan Times
Allahabad, December 28, 2010
First Published: 22:26 IST(28/12/2010)
Last Updated: 22:42 IST(28/12/2010)

Driving around in a small red car, negotiating the bumps and potholes and, of course, the haphazard Allahabad traffic with utmost ease even at age 66, Umesh Kumar Mishra seems to be in a hurry.

The man who has transformed the gymnastics scenario in the country and is waiting for the day when one of the many pupils from his 'factory' will bring home an Olympic medal, can go on endlessly about how the sport, which he has nurtured for the last five decades, has a great future in the country and how it is a gift of God to mankind.

Few people in the country would be as passionate about sport, least of all gymnastics, which is still alien despite a certain Ashish Kumar becoming the first Indian to clinch an Asiad bronze at the Guangzhou Games.

But in this sleepy town, Mishra's Boys' High School (BHS) gymnastics centre and his ambitious new project - the Khel Gaon Public School housing more than 500 students - are transforming the lives of youngsters and giving them a ray of hope that they can, and will, become world-beaters.

No support

Grants, money, support are words alien to this former gymnast, who retired as an assistant excise commissioner a few years back. But, he says, he does not wait for things to happen, but simply charts his course.

Ashish's exploits at the Asian Games has renewed his vigor to see one of his students come home with an Olympic medal round his neck.

With the sole hope of "seeing gymnastics grow and people promote it", he set out on a mission in 1961 by opening a small fitness centre on government land in Kanpur.

"With the help of local worksmen, we made parallel bars, horizontal bars, Roman rings and opened an institute. I collected small donations of R10 each from friends and gave shape to a dilapidated piece of land near a nullah (drain) in Kanpur," says the former national champion, who oversees the training of 200-odd students at BHS, which comes alive at 4:30am.

"Every step was full of struggle and every problem, I thought, would derail my initiative. People like me are always in minority. So, I redefined the meaning of majority. For me, a single man with courage is majority. Every building (system) that comes in the way of my Olympic dream will be leveled to the ground," he says determinedly.

Early beginning

Tiny-tots as young as four troop into the dilapidated centre waiting for their turn to get on to the floor to begin their exercises, which are strenuous.

Like an expert, Mishra, along with his group of coaches, trains his eyes on every pupil, not paying heed to their muted groans as they are put through the rigours. Parents have to drop their wards at the main entrance. Beyond that, it is the domain of the coaches.

This has been Mishra's motto ever since he embarked on the mission. "One who produces champions has to be strict and disciplined," he says sternly even as the eyes search out a student not giving his best.

The man who came to Allahabad in 1978 and has not moved out since, even foregoing promotions, says that it's not a matter of producing a single champion. "It's about evolving a system and putting it to work. This academy is not just about individuals. It's a machine for producing one champion after another."

Well- rounded

He has bent the rules of education to ensure that his wards get the best of both - sports and academics. He has evolved a system of private teachers, tailor-made curriculum so that his wards don't suffer on any count. "Education is very important, so the sports curriculum has to revolve around it," he explains.

Today, the first batch of gymnasts coming from the centre are spreading the word across that Indians too can - and will - be a force in major international competitions. Vikas Pandey, Mohit Yadav and Rohit Yadav are now coaches in top clubs in USA. The second batch of Abhishek Dikshit, Abhinav Dikshit, Deepesh Sahu and Rohit Jaiswal are in the BSF, while many more are with other government institutions. Gymnasts as young as 13-14 are being offered jobs. "I have set up the production assembly. It will keep churning out champions. Forever."


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