Friday, December 4, 2015

Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy: Breeding ground for new talents

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
There are many sports academies, which are doing their bit quietly away from the public limelight in churning out new talents, who can serve the country with distinction. Punjab-based Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy is one of them – it has been ‘doing a lot’ to ensure talented youngsters get a ‘platform’ to hone their skills and make it big.

Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy is the brainchild of NRI twins – Baldev Sidhu and Ajmer Sidhu, whose association with sports for many years during their stay first in England, and later Canada, subsequently paved the way for the setting of the academy in Chakar, a nondescript hamlet in the Ludhiana district of Punjab. “We (both me and Ajmer) went to England in 1967 when we were fourteen and in 1980 I went to Canada. Ajmer joined me there in 1986. We were encouraged by our parents to be in sports from an early age and have been in sports for the last 55 years,” says Baldev Sidhu, who is the patron of the academy.
Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy made a humble beginning – starting with just ten kids in 2006 but now has more than three hundred children getting trained in sports such as boxing, football and athletics. “The idea was to keep the kids interested in sports while keeping them away from the negative side of life such as drugs and violence. We are focusing on three sports and have 6 paid coaches – three for boxing and three for football,” Baldev throws light on the academy.

Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy shot into prominence when Mandeep Kaur won the world junior boxing crown earlier this year. Baldev agrees her triumph has catapulted the academy into the spotlight. “Yes, Mandeep winning the world junior championship title has definitely raised the interest in and around our village so much so that our membership has increased by 40%. Mandeep’s medal winning performance has put the Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy on the world map. Since the introduction of the academy the village has become much more health conscious while producing many boxers and footballers at the national and international level,” Baldev quips with a tinge of pride.

There is little doubt that Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy will continue to produce talents, who will do the country proud - Mandeep Kaur is only a beginning.

One year break allowed me to recharge my batteries: Sarita Devi

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Her emotional outburst at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, where she refused to accept her bronze medal after a controversial semifinal defeat, probably gave her more ‘news space’ than her exploits in the ring. Having served out a one-year ban, Laishram Sarita Devi is now all geared up to hit the competitive circuit as she takes part in a training-cum-competition event in Qian’an, China later this week. The week-long exposure stint will be hugely beneficial for the ace Manipuri pugilist. “I’m really looking forward to this exposure trip to China. The exposure will be handy as I will be sparring against boxers from China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Thailand - these boxers will challenge me the most in my lightweight category (60-kg)., “Sarita says a day before departing for China.

The 2006 AIBA World Champion only knows the importance of the China tour with the Rio Olympics less than a year away. “We will be training in Qian’an, which will host the Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament from March 23 to April 3 next year. The winner of the Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament secures an Olympic berth and we then have a second chance of qualifying by reaching the final of the 2016 AIBA World Championship, which will be held in Kazakhstan in May. Olympic berths are for grabs and I want to be in best shape for the Asian Olympic qualifiers and really keen to be at my best during my trip to China,” she says.

Sarita, who also won bronze medals in the 2005 and 2008 AIBA World Championships, used the ban-induced one year period productively, including undergoing a surgery on her right wrist. “I was having trouble with my wrist and thanks to Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), my surgery was smoothly done. The break allowed me to spend time with my two and a half year old son Tomthil, whom I miss so much when I am doing national duty. Overall the break enabled me to recharge my batteries,” she says.

Sarita is part of a 13-member Indian boxing team that will be in China. Besides Sarita, two other women boxers are accompanying her – Pinki Jangra and Pooja Rani.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Interview: Hope to do better at Super Series level: B Sumeeth Reddy

Buss Sumeeth Reddy has let his performance do the talking – he in tandem with Manu Attri has had a fabulous 2015 winning two doubles crown as well as three runners-up finishes. The 24-year-old Andhra lad, who won his first men’s doubles crown, spoke about his game and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q The 2015 has been a great run for you and Manu Attri – you have won two titles (Belgium and Lagos) as well as pulling off three runners-up finishes (US Open, Gautmela and Prague Open. What has been the secret of your consistent success?

I think we both took this year much seriously and worked hard. We had great support when we were facing tough times from Gopi Sir. Both these aspects helped us.

Q You guys were top seeds at the 50,000 Scottish Open Grand Prix, where you lost to 5th seed Andrew Ellis and Peter Mills of England 17-21, 15-21 in the quarterfinals. What do you think went wrong?

We didn’t start the game well and conceded an initial lead, thought we made it 16-16. Few mistakes cost us the game. Even the second game I felt it was their day.

 Q What is that one thing that makes you guys such a strong unit on the court?

We have completely opposite playing styles. So at times either my game works out or his, and on the day both of our games are at a higher level then we crack the top pairs.

Q There is always room for improvement – what do you think are your improvement areas?

I shifted to doubles just 3-4 years ago, and think my basics are not so strong. So, I’m working on these aspects with the new doubles coach Tan Kim Her.

Q Tell us a bit about first men’s doubles international crown?

The 2013 Tata International Challenge was our first men doubles title.

Q Throw some light on your maiden US Grand Prix Gold final - you guys lost to China’s Junhui Li and Yuchen Liu in the final. How exciting it was to reach your final Grand Prix Gold final?

It was a big boost for us, although we lost in straight games. It changed lot of things in our international career and made us a known pair in the international circuit.

 Q You guys attained your career best ranking in men’s doubles this year.

It is nice to be in the top-20. We hope to break into the top-15 as well.

Q You had three runners-up finishes. What were the lessons learnt from those losses?

Most of the tournaments we played were tough matches- each loss increased our hunger to win the next tournament. Holding on to our nerves helped in most of them.

Q You had early exits in the All England and World Championship – do you think you guys need to raise the bar even more to make a big impact in these events?

We are trying hard to make a better mark at the Super Series level. I hope we make it in 2016.

Q BAI has hired Tan Kim Her as the country’s men’s doubles coach – how has been the experience working under him?

He is a great person on court and off court. We have started training under him recently and he is in working hard to improve things in the Indian doubles team.

Q IBL is being revived after nearly three years – must be exciting times for badminton players – both seniors and juniors.

Surely, it will help all players to execute their game in front of the home crowd. I'm sure this time under the BAI the IBL will be a great success.

Q How do you like to unwind when you are not playing badminton?

I mostly watch movies and hang out with friends when I have an off session.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Indian Weightlifting Federation must act against doping menace

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The 2015 World Weightlifting Championship is on in USA, but doping scare continues to haunt Indian weightlifting. The latest development of two Indian women weightlifters – Pramila Krisani and Minati Sethi – being tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs – has once brought to the fore one thing – the Indian Weightlifting Federation(IWF) hasn’t done quite enough to cope with the doping menace.

Indian weightlifting has been replete with doping offences. Both Pramila Krisani and Minati Sethi were dropped from the national team that is competing in the World Weightlifting Championships. More importantly, there might not be enough light at the end of the tunnel for the IWF as the body could face a ban from the International Weightlifting Federation.

It may be worth recalling that the International Weightlifting Federation’s rules clearly stipulate that if three weightlifters of a country are tested positive in a calendar day, the world body will slap a one–year ban. If indeed a ban is imposed on the national body, it could ruin India’s participation in next year’s Rio Olympic Games. “India have seen so many weightlifters tested positive over the years. Indian Weightlifting Federation has been banned thrice earlier (2004, 2006 and 2009) and does not have a great reputation at all. The latest incident of two girls testing positive might prompt the world body to slap a ban on us,” said a former IWF official.

Both Pramila Krisani and Minati Sethi had failed dope tests – they were tested positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid during the recently Commonwealth Championships at Pune and were provisionally suspended from all competitions held under the banner of the International Weightlifting Federation. Krisani had won silver in the 53kg category and had also won the women’s 53kg gold in the senior nationals at Jaipur in March. Sethi had clinched bronze in the 58kg at the Commonwealth Championships in Pune.

What puts the national body in poor light is the fact that both these weightlifters had been attending the Olympic Games preparatory camp at Patiala for long and hadn’t tested positive in national meets or in any out-of-competition tests at Patiala. It clearly means something is wrong somewhere as one fails to understand how lifters who came clean in domestic meets go on to test positive international meets. IWF must treat this latest incident with utmost seriousness.

Only in last September, two lifters, Jameer Hussian and Aporva Chettri, failed pre-departure tests conducted by the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) ahead of the Asian championship.

Women weightlifters outshine men in world championships

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

It was always going to be a tough outing for the Indian weightlifters at the 2015 World Weightlifting Championship in Houston, USA, and the country’s weightlifters experienced it the hard way, dishing out a disappointing performance finishing well out of medal contention in most of the weight categories. In fact, one has to say that the Indian women weightlifters outshone their male counterparts, as they fought hard and capped off respectable finishes.

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu put up the best performance from among the otherwise listless showing of the Indian contingent, finishing ninth in the 48 kg. The 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist, thus improved on her 11th place finish at the 2014 World Weightlifting Championship, hosting a total weight of 183 kg, while her team-mate and 2014 Commonwealth Game gold medallist Sanjita Chanu took the 14th position with a total lift of 179 kg.

Punam Yadav was another women lifter, who improved her position by five slots, finishing 15th in the 63kg category – she had settled for 20th spot in the 2014 World Weightlifting Championship. Santoshi Matsa found the going tough and finished 19th in the 53 kg category. “Our women weightlifters were expected to do well, at least improve on their previous performances in the world championships and so it is not a surprise to see them well. Our men lifters were anyway not expected to be in medal contention,” says a former Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF) coach.

The country’s men weightlifters struggled to make their presence felt. Promising Arunachali youngster Jamjang Deru was the best performer among the men lifters, finishing 20 in the 56 kg category - 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sukhen Dey, a much more experienced campaigner than Jamjang Deru, turned in a downbeat performance, finishing 26th. India’s biggest hope - 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sathish Sivalingam- failed to get any position in the 77 kg category – a huge disappointment for the country in a category where talented Arunachali youngster Kojum Taba finished 37th. Kojum Taba is an exciting youngster, who stunned Sathish Sivalingam in the 2015 Senior National Weightlifting Championship.

Another talented youngster - Deepak Lather – settled for 42nd position in the 62 kg. Assam lad Papul Changmai finished 37th in the 69 kg category. “Jamjang Deru, Kojum Taba and Deepak Lather have all come through the junior ranks and for them the 2015 World Weightlifting Championship is more of a learning curve than gunning for a medal. I’m sure they will be richer with the big tournament experience,” the former coach added.

Perhaps, the only solace is that the likes of Saikhom Mirabai Chanu and Punam Yadav have improved on their previous positions in the 2014 World Weightlifting Championship.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Focusing on my defence: Sindhu

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
PV Sindhu made all and sundry sit up and take notice of her with a runners-up finish in her maiden Super Series final at the recent Danish Open. The 20-year-old Hyderabad girl lost to Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China in the final, but not before vanquishing 3rd seed Tai Tzu Ying, 6th seed Wang Yihan and top-seed Carolina Marin. Sindhu, who is probably the one of the youngest players to win the Arjuna and Padma Shri awards at the age of 20, spoke about her game and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q How satisfying it is to finish runners-up at the recent Danish Open?

It was my first Super Series final and that itself makes the occasion special. I lost to Olympic champion Li Xuerei in a contest where, I had my chances and even led 16-10 in the first game which I lost 19-21. I trailed 4-13 in the second game and from then on it was difficult to catch up as she was playing really well. I’m quite chuffed with my runners-up finish.

Q You upset three higher ranked players en route to the final. You got the better of 3rd seed Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan and former world number one and 6th seed Wang Yihan of China in the second round and quarterfinals respectively. And both were straight game wins.

I upset both Tai and Wang in straight games, but it does not mean those were easy wins for me. I really had to dig deep to put it across them. Both matches had a lot of rallies and it was just that I ended up winning most of them in both matches.

Q Of course, you will cherish your massive win over world number one Carolina Marin of Spain in the semifinals.

I have never beaten her before, so it was really satisfying to beat her. I won the opening game but Carolina rebounded and won the second game before I dished out my best in the decider to make it to the final.

Q You have twice won bronze medals at the World Championships, besides garnering a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games – do you feel your runners-up finish at the Danish Open is your best?

It has to be one of the best performances for sure. I entered the final of a Super Series for the first time and I will cherish this effort for a long time to come.

Q You are just 20 – you have already won the coveted Arjuna and Padma Shri awards – something not many attain at your age.

I feel honoured to receive these coveted awards and they mean a lot to me. I don’t know how many have got these awards at my age but it is pleasing feeling to have these awards in your cupboard. I still feel I have a long road ahead of me.

Q Every player looks to improve – what do you think should be the main focus areas going forward?

I think I have improved my defence and there is always room for improvement. I still need to improve more in this aspect of the game.

Q Indian badminton is looking up – how do you assess the future?

Indian badminton is in great health – so many players are coming up and performing on the international stage. The likes of Saina, Kashyap, Srikanth, Sai, Pranoy are all doing well and I’m sure the future of the sport is bright.

Q The Indian Badminton League (IBL) will be held after a gap of two years. Your thoughts.

The IBL is a great concept – I’m sure our juniors can benefit a lot from the league like we are at the senior level.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Can Archery Association of India hope to get Sports Ministry recognition?

Getting derecognised by the Sports Ministry is never a good thing for the health of any sports association as financial aid from the government comes to a halt. The Archery Association of India (AAI) has been treading a collision path with the Sports Ministry ever since 2012, after the former was derecognised.

The Sports Ministry’s main grouse is that the Archery Association of India has violated the age and tenure guidelines of the sports code. The bone of contention is BJP strongman and vastly experienced sports administrator VK Malhotra getting re-elected as AAI President for the fourth consecutive term in 2012, which contravenes the guidelines of the sports code.

It’s worth pointing out that VK Malhotra has served as AAI President for four decades (more than 40 years), but what the sports code guidelines clearly stipulate that a national sports federation (NSF) president can only serve three consecutive terms of four years each and has an age cap of 70. Malhotra is 83 and his re-election for the fourth consecutive term raised the hackles of the Sports Ministry, which derecognised the AAI. The re-election forced the ministry to term the elections illegal and called for fresh elections.

Nearly three years have passed since the Sports Ministry had derecognised the AAI, but what has made things ‘interesting’ is that VK Malhotra recently stepped down as AAI President, thus giving rise to hopes that the Sports Ministry will lift ‘the derecognise blanket over AAI’.

“The AAI has been derecognised for close to three years but the performance of our archers have been outstanding,” said a Archery Association of India official.

Now that VK Malhotra is out of the radar, the Archery Association of India should not be wasting much time in seeking recognition from the sports ministry. Of course, the AAI has said in public domain that the derecognition was not fair and that performance of the country’s archers must be taken into consideration. The AAI must look to avoid a collision course with the Sports Ministry and attain the ministry’s recognition so that government funding starts flowing to AAI’s coffers and our archers get more support and the sport is in the best of health.

Interviews: Prolonged injuries are frustrating: Sumit Sangwan

Sumit Sangwan is prodigiously talented. The 22-year-old Haryana boxer – supported by Olympic Gold Quest – first hogged the headlines when he won the light heavyweight (81kg) gold in the 34th National Games in Jharkhand in 2011, before reinforcing his credentials winning the 2012 Asian Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament in Astana and sealing his Olympic berth. A right thumb injury kept him on the sidelines for more than a year, which effectively meant that he missed a slew of tournaments during this period. The ONGC employee won the gold in the 2015 Senior Nationals in Nagpur and was named the best boxer of the tournament. Sumit, who is currently going through the rehab programme in Bengaluru, spoke about his Olympic aspirations and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q You are considered the country’s number one light heavyweight (81kg) boxer but you have been battling with a prolonged injury that has put you out of competitive action for more than a year now. Your thoughts.

I sustained a right thumb injury during the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where I lost to eventual gold medallist David Nyika of New Zealand in the quarterfinals. I dislocated my right thumb and was out of competitive action for more than a year. I’m currently doing my rehab in Bengaluru and hope to be in the ring soon.

Q How frustrating it is to miss tournaments on account of injuries?

It is indeed frustrating to give tournaments a miss on injury grounds. My right thumb injury has turned out be a prolonged one as I missed so many big tournaments like the 2014 Asian Games, 2015 Asian Championship and 2015 AIBA World Championship. As I have said, I have hit the rehab program and hope to play in the upcoming Asian Olympic qualifiers so that I can play in my second Olympics in Rio.

Q People still talk about your 2012 London Olympics first round loss to Brazil’s Yamaguchi Falc√£o Florentino – a bout which is still considered highly controversial as the Indian contingent protested against that loss and was rejected by the jury that reviewed the bout.

As a boxer you know when it’s not your day when lose badly. Similarly, you also know whether you have done enough to win a bout. On that day in London, I just felt that I had done enough to beat my Brazilian opponent. I was shocked by the outcome of the bout.

Q Dinesh Kumar has been dominating the light heavyweight (81 kg) until you outboxed him in the selection trials and later won the gold medal at the 2012 Asian Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan and sealed your Olympic berth.

The 2012 Asian Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament will always have special memories for me as it was my first major senior international tournaments. I had beaten opponents from Vietnam, Korea, Jordan and Tajikistan to corner glory. I knew it was my best chance to represent the country in the Olympics and I played with a free mind though I admit I was feeling the pressure.

Q You made your debut in the 2013 AIBA World Championship in Almaty and attained a quarterfinal finish losing to Kazakhstan’s Adilbek- the reigning Olympic silver medallist – who went to win the silver.

The AIBA World Championship was a great experience for me – I defeated opponents from Moldova and Belarus before I lost to Adilbek.

Q What are your strengths as a boxer and improvement areas that need more focus?

I think my tall reach and speed are my key strengths. There is always room for improvement and I need to work more on my footwork.

Q Indian boxing has been in doldrums with the federation provisionally suspended by AIBA with domestic boxing activities coming to a standstill. What’s your take?

Boxing has suffered a lot in last few years. I feel for the youngsters who work hard to become a boxer and make a future out of it, but with no national level tournaments happening, there is uncertainty all around. Where do these youngsters go to prove their worth? It’s sad to see such a situation.

Q Vijender turned pro earlier this year. Do you desire to turn pro in future?

At the moment, I’m happy playing amateur boxing and would like to win medals in all major events. As for turning pro, I’m not thinking about it now.

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