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.