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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interview: Keen to finish Olympic journey with gold medal: Yogeshwar Dutt

Injuries prompting players to miss major tournaments can be exceedingly frustrating for any sportsmen and India’s star wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt has been coping with it over the years – the last being the knee injury that forced him to miss the 2015 World Wrestling Championship. The 32-year-old Haryana grappler is doing all possible rehab so that he can be ready to play in the Olympic qualifying tournaments happening early next year. The Haryana Police DSP spoke about his wrestling and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q How is the rehab going on for your knee injury, which forced you to miss the 2015 World Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas?

I’m recuperating and have started training. Obviously missing the 2015 World Wrestling Championship was hugely disappointing for me as there were Olympic berths up for grabs.

Q You have won medals at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Wrestling Championship but you are yet to win a medal at the 2015 World Wrestling Championship.

I played in the 2010 and 2015 World Wrestling Championship but lost early. I missed the 2013 World Wrestling Championships owing to a knee injury and again I missed the 2015 World Wrestling Championship on injury grounds.

Q You have battled with a plethora of injuries over the years. Does it get frustrating at times?

It does get frustrating to miss big tournaments because of injuries. I missed the 2010 Asian Games because of a back injury, which kept me out of action for six months. I missed the 2013 and 2015 World Wrestling Championships owing to injuries. I have been troubled my injuries and now I’m wary about it.

Q Talking of the 2015 World Wrestling Championship, much was expected from our men grapplers, but we ended up with only a bronze from Narsingh Yadav.

Narsingh Yadav performed really well to win a bronze medal as winning a medal in the World Wrestling Championship is tough. Wrestling is a sport, where a lot of decisions are very close and decided in the final seconds of the bout. The likes of Amit Kumar and Bajrang Punia were unlucky not to be among the medals and with a little bit of luck we could have returned home with three medals instead of one from the World Wrestling Championship.

Q There are three Olympic qualifications tournaments lined up next year. How optimistic are you of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics?

I’m focusing on qualifying from the Olympic qualification tournament to be held in March. The two other Olympic qualification tournaments will be held in April and June. I want to qualify from the first qualifying tourney so that I get adequate time to prepare for the Rio Olympics.

Q The exploits of Sushil Kumar and yours have lifted Indian wrestling in terms of popularity. Do you think the buzz is only in Haryana or has spread to all parts of the country?

Haryana has a strong wrestling culture coupled with robust infrastructure and that is why we keep churning out new talents. It hardly means that talents are not springing up from other parts of the country. Wrestling is getting popular across the country for sure.

Q How do you think the Pro Wrestling League will help Indian wrestling?

The PWL will enable junior grapplers to obtain vital exposure against the international talents. Youngsters watching live television action will be encouraged to pick up the sport as they will be convinced that they can have a future in wrestling.

Q The question that keeps popping up every now and then – will Yogeshwar Dutt get married?

My mother keeps telling me about it and I will think of it after the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Q The 2016 Rio Olympics will be your fourth Olympics. How would you assess your wrestling future?

I’m pretty sure 2016 Olympics will be my last Olympic as I don’t see myself playing in the 2020 Olympics. It all depends on what shape I’m in. I will like to play competitive wrestling till 2018 and play in the 2018 Asian Games and 2018 Commonwealth Games as well as the World Wrestling Championship. I’m keen to wrap up my Olympic journey with a gold medal.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Interview: Lifting above 190 kg will ensure world championship medal: Sanjita Chanu

She is shy and shows none of it in the weightlifting arena. Khumukcham Sanjita Chanu is India’s biggest medal hope among women weightlifters for the upcoming World Weightlifting Championship, which begins in Houston, USA from November 10. The 21-year-old Manipuri lass, who took up the sport having got inspired by the exploits of former weightlifting great N Kunjarani Devi, is keen to make a big impression at the World Weightlifting Championship on the back of back-to-back gold medal efforts in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and 2015 Commonwealth Games. The Railway employee, who shot into prominence winning the gold medal in the 2009 Senior Nationals in Pune before going on to bag a bronze medal in the 2011 Asian Weightlifting Championship – her senior international debut. Sanjita spoke about her preparations for the upcoming World Weightlifting Championship among others in an exclusive interview.


Q How do you assess your preparations for the upcoming World Weightlifting Championship?

The training has been good so far. I’m looking to raise the bar at the camp and at the same time stay injury-free. My gold medal effort in the recent Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship has been a big boost for me. Keeping my fingers crossed for the World Weightlifting Championship.

Q You compete in the 48 kg category – who are your most formidable opponents in your weight category at the World Weightlifting Championship?

No opponent is easy in the World Weightlifting Championship as everyone trains hard for this big event. But girls from China, Turkey, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Mexico are really strong.

Q This is your second World Weightlifting Championship – you had earlier taken part in the 2011 edition in Paris.

Paris was my first World Weightlifting Championship and I had finished 11 on that occasion. A Chinese lifter had won the gold and I’m now keen to improve on my 11th position attained in the 2011 edition.

Q You won the 48 kg gold medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games with a total lift of 173 kg and you recently won the 48 kg gold medal at the recent Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship in Pune with a total lift of 182 kg. How realistic are your chances of winning a medal at the upcoming World Weightlifting Championship?

I believe achieving a total lift of above 190kg should ensure a world championship medal. As you can see I have been improving on my 2014 Commonwealth Games performance of a total lift of 173 kg and touched 182 kg in the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship in Pune. I managed 186 kg in the trials and hoping to go further up at the upcoming World Weightlifting Championship.

Q You won the gold medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then gave the 2014 Inchoen Asian Games a miss.

I sustained a back injury after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and had to miss the 2014 Asian Games. Subsequently, I also missed the 2014 World Weightlifting Championship held in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Q You seem to have some competition going with Saikhom Mirabai Chanu in 48 kg category – you pushed her to second spot in both 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games as well as in the 2015 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship.

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu is a talented weightlifter and is a good friend of mine. We support each other in training and there is healthy competition between us, which is good as it helps both of us to raise the performance bar in pursuit of excellence.

Q You derived a lot of inspiration from former great N Kunjarani Devi.

I took up weightlifting getting inspired by her exploits on the international stage. She has achieved so much for the country and it really feels good to have her as coach of the women’s team. There is so much to learn from her.

Q Unlike other sports weightlifting is one sport where recovery process of a lifter is long. There is always feeling that weightlifters should have adequate gap between tourneys so that they can be at their best. Your thoughts.

The recovery process for weightlifters is long – usually a tournament gets over and the next tourney should happen ideally after one or two months as our recovery is not proper if events are held in quick succession.

‘Illegal’ women nationals conducted by suspended Boxing India may not please AIBA

Indian boxing just cannot get away from ‘controversy’. We are well aware that there is no national federation in place after Boxing India was provisionally suspended by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) after its president and general secretary were forced to step down amidst bickering among the state units. The AIBA appointed an ad-hoc committee spearheaded by Kishen Narsi to run the sport in the country and also find an entity, who can take over the affairs of the sport in the country.
It is well known that the country’s boxers has suffered from lack of national level events due to the AIBA ban as the AIBA-appointed ad-hoc committee has been struggling to find a new entity to run the sport. Given this backdrop, the suspended Boxing India president Meren Paul and his team went ahead and held a championship for women in Bongaigaon, Assam calling it ‘nationals’, which the AIBA-appointed ad-hoc committee has termed it ‘illegal’ and has written to the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

One is not sure why Boxing India president Meren Paul and his coterie hosted this event when rules clearly state that no championship can be conducted by suspended BI and called ‘nationals’ without the permission of the Sports Ministry. At a time when our boxers are playing in international competitions under the AIBA flag, the latest development could further ruffle the feathers of AIBA.

AIBA has appointed an ad-hoc committee to run the sport and when a provisional suspension is in place, what would the BI body host a meet calling it ‘nationals’. Clearly, the AIBA-appointed ad-hoc committee is livid with the suspended BI president for hosting this championship as the former had twice written to Meren Paul asking him not to host any such event. “There is no way any entity can stage any event and call it ‘nationals’. Even if the AIBA appointed ad-hoc committee want to host a national level, it has to obtain permission of the AIBA and the Sports Ministry. Boxing India is provisionally suspended by AIBA and how can a suspended body hold such a tourney. Indian federation is already provisionally suspended and this incident may make it even more tough to secure AIBA recognition so that boxers can play for the country and not box under the AIBA flag,” said a former Indian boxer.

One remains to be see what kind of action SAI takes against this suspended BI officials and whether AIBA takes cognisance of it and impose more stringent action, something Indian boxing can ill afford.

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