Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Interview: My best is yet to come: Ajay Jayaram

Indian men’s shuttler Ajay Jayaram is enjoying a good run – the 29-year-old Mumbai broke into the top-20 recently for the first time ever following semifinal appearances at the US Open and Canadian Open. Jayaram – currently ranked 19 in the world – spoke about his game and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q. How does it feel to break into the top-20 - your career best singles ranking so far?
It definitely feels great to break into the top 20 again. However, the hope, this time, is to go further by maintaining a consistent level of performance.
Q. You had two semifinal finishes at the US Open and Canadian Open. In hindsight with a bit of luck, you could have won both these titles. Your thoughts?
True. I have mixed feelings about both those performances. I did play some good matches to reach the last 4 stage in both tournaments. However, I can't be happy about my performance in both the semifinals I played. I struggled a bit with my shoulder in Canada when I was up against Lee Hyun-il which made it hard for me to give my best.
I thought I had a much better chance in US where I played against the young Japanese, Kanta Tsuneyama. But I never really found any rhythm and the match slipped away before I could settle down. Disappointing end to an otherwise good tournament, but lots to learn.
Q. There weIre many Indians in the fray - Praneeth, Pranoy, Guru and Anand among others. How satisfying is it to make it to the semis of US Open?
Winning matches and making it to the semis or finals of a tournament always feels good irrespective of whether there are Indians or not. Also, considering the number of Indian men's singles players who are currently in the top 50 and 100 in the world, and a rising number of juniors who are always eager to do well and make a mark, most tournaments would feature a good number of Indians. And this is always great because you're bound to see more encouraging performances as has been observed in the recent past.
Q. Do you think at 29 you are playing best badminton of your career?
I guess and, more importantly, I hope my best is yet to come
Q. What are the positives you think has helped you to up your performance and rankings?
My performances in the past few months prior to this circuit had dipped owing to lack of training. So I decided to skip the Australia and Indonesia Open and get some weeks of good quality training. I'm glad that it has showed positive results. I still believe, however, that a lot more work needs to be done.
Q. Every player looks to improve - what will be your improvement areas?
My fitness has risen over the past month and that's something I will have to maintain. Apart from that I believe adding a bit more of variation in my strokes and varying the general pace of rallies from time to time will help me immensely
Q. How has been your experience of playing against the singles' top players. What does it take to beat them?
It's always great to play against the top players. You learn a lot each time. For that matter, you learn something from every good match you play, win or lose. What sets the top few apart is, I guess, their confidence and ability to perform at a constant level match after match. Another very important aspect I believe is how well you manage to stay injury free.
Q. What are the learnings you had from playing in the PBL?
PBL was different in the sense that you had an added element of pressure of your team depending on you. So learning to handle that was something I could take out of that.
Q. What goals have you set for yourself for the future?
I am currently enjoying training and playing/competing at this level. That is a very important thing for me. I think something as basic, but immensely difficult as giving your best and playing at a consistent level in every match, every tournament is something I want to focus on. Last year I finished with a silver in a Super Series event. So hoping to do one better and emerge with a win.

Rio Olympics 2016: Narsingh Yadav doping issue unfortunate for Indian wrestling, says Sushil Kumar’s coach and former great Satpal Singh

Controversies just refuse to die away when it comes to Indian wrestling. India’s 74-kg freestyle grappler Narsingh Yadav’s being testing positive for a banned substance has hurt Indian wrestling in a big way – the official confirmation by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has thrown a cloud of uncertainty over who will represent India in the 74-kg category at the Rio Olympics.
Indian wrestling has been rocked earlier by the so-called ‘Sushil Kumar vs Narsingh Yadav’ fiasco, as to who will play for the country in the freestyle 74-kg category after the latter had sealed the Olympic berth winning a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships in the USA.
Former wrestling great and Sushil Kumar’s coach Satpal Singh says the whole development is ill-timed. “It’s unfortunate that Indian wrestling has to face such a situation where a player is tested positive with just ten days to go for the Olympics,” he says.
The former wrestling great believes the image of the sport has surely taken a beating. “There is no doubt that Indian wrestling is on a high and everyone is expecting medals from our grapplers. But the reputation of Indian wrestling has taken a pounding because of this latest development,” he observes.
Narsingh had said that he is ‘innocent’ and that the whole testing positive thing is nothing but a conspiracy. Satpal puts forth his views on the same. “Look, NADA has caught him using a banned substance and how can it be a conspiracy. India wants its wrestlers to do well in the Olympics and it is not fair for Narsingh to say it is a conspiracy.
“I have nothing against Narsingh but this whole thing was uncalled for,” he quips.
Now with Narsingh being handed provisional suspension and virtually ruled out of next month's Olympics, it remains to be whether Sushil can replace him in Rio. Insiders say there may be no Indian representation in the 74kg category in Rio Games because the date of entry of the athletes is over.
“It is for the WFI to decide on whom to send for Rio. I can’t comment on it – all I’m saying is the country should not miss out on an opportunity to send a representation in 74-kg,” he adds.

Rio Olympics 2016: Shooter Jitu Rai should back himself to corner glory at the Games

Indian shooting contingent invariably have to carry ‘high expectations’ whenever they head to the summer Olympics. Why not? After all, the Indian marksmen have never returned empty-handed from the marquee event since Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, a feat which was bettered by Abhinav Bindra’s gold winning showing in Beijing in 2008 and the ‘medal-winning momentum’ was maintained by Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar in London in 2012.
As the 2016 Rio Olympics draws closer, the Indian shooters will hope to grab the limelight – and one man, who will look to prove that his solid performance on the international stage in recent years is no fluke, is talented Jitu Rai. The 29-year-old Army shooter has ‘done much’ on the international stage in recent years to exude hope among shooting fans about being a potential medal prospect.
Every athlete needs a nice build-up going into the Olympics, and Jitu seems to have ticked all the boxes on this front.

The ace shooter had started the year with a gold medal finish at the ISSF World Cup in Bangkok in March in the men’s 50-metre pistol event – following it up by bagging a silver medal in the men’s 10-metre air pistol event at the ISSF World Cup in Baku. Clearly, these performances will stand him in good stead for the Rio Olympics.
The ISSF World Cup does provide a fair idea of where a shooter stands on the world level. Why Jitu’s gold and silver medal-winning efforts in Bangkok and Baku are significant, because he had a pretty rough time in 2015 – winning only a bronze medal at the 2015 ISSF World Cup in Changwon.
The lone medal effort at the ISSF World Cup is seen as a disappointment because he really rocked in 2014 winning three ISSF World Cup medals – one silver in Maribor and one silver in Munich ISSF World Cups, as well as winning gold medals in the men’s 50 metre pistol at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Eight ISSF World Cup medals in last three years must be some ‘performance’ from Jitu and no wonder medal hopes are soaring from the Indian shooting fans. The one question that is asked is that in which event Jitu fancies his medal hopes – 50-metre pistol or 10-metre air pistol?
As far as the 50-metre pistol event is concerned, Jitu’s main challengers will be Ukraine’s Oleh Omlechuk (who won the Rio de Janeiro ISSF World Cup), Spain’s Pablo Carrera (he had won the Munich ISSF World Cup), Korea’s Jin Jongoh (he had won the Baku ISSF World Cup) besides the Chinese duo of Wei Pang and Wang Zhiwei.
Not to speak much of fancied Brazilian Felipe Almeida Wu, who had won two of the 2016 ISSF World Cup crowns in the men’s 10-metre air pistol event. One hopes that Jitu who had become the first Indian shooter to earn a Rio quota in September 2015, with a second place finish at the 2015 World Championships in Spain, won’t disappoint his fans and put in a blockbuster performance in Rio.

Interview with Manoj Kumar: Vast experience will help me in the Rio Olympics

He is the most experienced Indian male boxer – yes, Manoj Kumar has a bucketful of experience – and will look to optimise that when he boxes for the country in the light welterweight category (64kg) of the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics. The 29-year-old with a massive 11 years of international experience, will be travelling to London next week as part of the Talent Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme to fine-tune his preparations for the games after having made the Rio cut after the Baku Olympic Qualifying Event recently.
The Haryana lad, who is employed with the Indian Railways, spoke about his Olympic aspirations and much more in an exclusive interview.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Q: How satisfying it is to qualify for your second consecutive Olympics?

It feels good to make the Olympic cut – we all work hard with the aspiration of representing our country in the Olympics and I consider myself fortunate to be featuring in my second Olympics.
Q: You featured in as many five bouts before you qualified for the Rio Olympics by reaching the last-four stage of the 64kg category – how would you sum up your overall experience in Baku?
I outboxed boxers from Puerto Rico, Ireland, Bulgaria and Tajikistan before I lost to Great Britain’s Pat MacCormack in the semifinals – all my bouts were hard-fought and I really had to be at my best to win all my bouts.
Q: You have been boxing in the light welterweight category (64kg) for eleven years now – how much this rich experience will help you in Rio?
Experience do matter and I need to use it to my best advantage in Rio – all I want to say is I will give my best shot and if the Almighty showers his blessings who knows I might end up with a podium finish.
Also read: Rio Olympics 2016: Boxer Manoj Kumar books an August date in Brazil
Q: You lost in the second round of the 64kg at the 2012 London Olympics – having experienced the Olympic stage must be of big help to you this time around. 
Four years ago, I was thrilled to bits playing in the Olympics but now the focus is not  just on boxing for the country but winning a medal and making the country proud. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Q: You were not earlier part of the Government’s Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme but you have been inducted after qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
I’m really happy to avail the TOP scheme – my coach Rajesh Kumar is also travelling with me to London next week for a three-week training stint along with the national squad and other coaching staff.
Q: You owe a lot to your elder brother turned coach Rajesh Kumar for whatever you have achieved in boxing. Your thoughts.
Rajesh is five years elder to me and the kind of setbacks I have endured in my boxing career it would not have been possible for Rajesh – he is a pillar of strength for me – if he was not supporting me I don’t know where I would have been languishing today. He is everything for me.
Q You have said on most occasions that you always got a raw deal – your thoughts.
Many would have given up boxing if they experienced the setbacks I have come up against. My steely resolve allowed me to surmount everything and focus on boxing.
Q: You have expressed your desire to quit international boxing with an Olympic bang?
I would like to go out on a high but can’t say much about the future. For now, I want to win a medal for my country.

Interview with HS Prannoy: "Important not to rush your international return after injury"

HS Prannoy is down with a toe injury, which put him out of the India team for the Thomas Cup. The 23-year-old youngster from Kerala is doing everything he can to return to the international circuit. Prannoy, who had won the 2016 Swiss Open in Basel, talks about his game and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q You missed the Thomas Cup due to a toe injury – how is your recovery process going on?
I sustained a toe injury at the Singapore Open and subsequently had to miss the Thomas Cup. My rehab has been good so far – I hope to return to the international circuit by June-end – I’m aiming to play in the Canadian Open and US Open. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Q India’s Thomas Cup performance was disappointing – your thoughts.
I think we are not at full strength – me, Kashyap and Srikanth did not play in the Thomas Cup. I feel that the outcome could have been different if we were at full strength though the boys gave their best.
Q Is there any disappointment at missing playing in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
I’m a tad disappointed at not making the Olympic cut – I have taken it in my stride and want to return to the circuit injury-free and win tournaments.
Q Indian shuttlers have been consistently grappling with injuries – how frustrating it is to cope with injuries?
The most important thing is to know why an injury has occurred and accordingly take corrective measures. Equally important is not to rush your return to the international circuit. There is no point in looking at short-term goals of what if I miss a few tournaments as we all need to look at the bigger picture. I have been down with injuries on several occasions in last few years and I know it is futile to get frustrated as I try to stay positive.
Q How would you sum up your Swiss Open triumph?
It was really satisfying to win the Swiss Open – I beat higher ranked players like Germany’s Marc Zwiebler and England’s Rajiv Ouseph en route to winning the crown.
Q After the Swiss Open win, you faced a string of first round defeats. Your thoughts.
I don’t want to give any excuses but I was handed some tough draws in most of these tourneys – I ran into guys like Kento Momoto and Chen Long at the Malaysian Open and Singapore Open – I played my heart out but it wasn’t enough.
Q You played for Mumbai Rockets in the 2016 Premier Badminton League. How was your experience?
It was a fantastic experience to play in the PBL – the way it was conducted was laudable – crowds have thronged the venue, especially the final where we lost to Delhi Acers. I just hope the PBL is held every year.
Q India has seen seven-eight men singles players figuring in the top-50 in the last few years or so – does that tell you something about the health of Indian badminton?
Absolutely! There was a time when we had only Saina reaping laurels for the country – now we have Sindhu, Srikanth, Kashyap among many others. I guess Indian badminton will get even better in future.

Interview with Sonia Lather: "World championship medal proves I’m the best"

Indian women boxing contingent had never returned empty-handed from the AIBA World Championship and Sonia Lather deserves all praise for ensuring the country came home with a coveted silver medal in the marquee event. The 24-year-old pugilist, who hails from Haryana’s Jind district, lost the featherweight (57-kg) category to Italy’s Alessia Mesiano in a tight contest.
Employed with the Railways, Sonia, who did not box for India for three years since the 2012 Asian Championship, spoke about her world championship ‘highs’ and much more in an exclusive interview.

Q You must have been a special feeling to win a silver medal at the 2016 AIBA World Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan. Your thoughts.
I’m really happy to win a medal for my country. I’m a tad disappointed that I could not win my final bout against Italy’s Alessia Mesiano. I thought the final bout was a close affair and I really had my chances to go for glory, but it was not destined to be my day.

Q You won four bouts to reach the final of the featherweight (57-kg) category. Can you sum up all your bouts?

I fought against a Mongolian, a German and a Polish opponent in the first three rounds and I was in full control in these bouts. I was little apprehensive about my semifinal bout against Kazakhstan’s Aizhan Khojabekova not because she was a great boxer but because she is from the host nation. Beating a pugilist from the host nation always gives a joyous feeling.

Q This is the first time you fought in the featherweight (57-kg) category and you won a medal at the world championships – you have been out of the national team for three years. This must have been really satisfying win?

I was a national champion in 2010, 2011 and 2012 in the bantamweight category (54-kg) which is my pet weight category but I was not getting opportunities to represent the nation. I gave trials for the lightweight (60-kg) category for the 2016 world championships but was picked for the featherweight (57-kg category).

Q You last played for India at the 2012 Asian Boxing Championship in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where you had won a silver medal in the bantamweight category (54-kg) – you played in the 2016 world championship after three years in the wilderness.

Politics is always there in the selection of boxers. I was not getting picked despite performing. My world championship medal proves that I’m the best in the featherweight category. It is never easy to perform on the international stage when you have not represented the country for three years.

Q How disappointing it is to see none of our women boxers securing an Olympic berth?

It’s a sad feeling indeed. It would have been nice to have our boxers in Rio but not qualifying for the Olympics is a reality we have to come to terms with.

Q How do you look at the future of Indian women boxing?

There is a future only if a federation is put in place. We have been boxing under the AIBA flag and boxers are the bigger sufferers – youngsters are only training and no nationals being are being held since 2014. I just hope a federation takes control of Indian boxing soon.

Q Tell us about your family and where you started picking up boxing?

I’m the only one boxing in the family. My father is a farmer – I have two sisters and one brother.

Performing in major tournaments is the focus: Indian women's hockey coach Neil Hawgood

Neil Hawgood knows his girls quite well now – after all, he has been working with them for a long time now. He took charge of the Indian women’s hockey team in mid-2012 and left the job in late 2014 before again taking up the head coach role in November 2015 to prepare the national women’s team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Aussie, who had played in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, talks about his team’s improvement areas and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q The recent tour of England has been a big disappointment for the Indian women’s team – they lost all their five matches – conceding 21 goals. How would you sum up your team’s performance on the England tour?
While the results were disappointing, ass you have stated in our big losses we conceded goals in short periods of play, like the last game where we had to replace our goalkeeper at halftime due to an injury and then conceded 4 goals in about 8 minutes.
But that was us dealing with them for two quarters of the game. So the results do not always tell you a whole picture, so yes it was disappointing but there were signs of us being able to compete and be competitive, but we could not sustain that for four quarters of hockey.
Q Ever since we qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years, do you feel that the Indian team appeared to have gone off the boil if their performances in South Africa, New Zealand and England are anything to go by – your thoughts?
Well, Argentina and South Africa, were actually quite good tours for us, we were able to beat South Africa for the first time in 10 years I believe, so that was encouraging, and prior to that we toured Argentina where we drew with Australia, and drew with China and drew one game with Argentina.
Since those tours, we have put the group through one of the hardest training phases that we could, and while the results were not media-friendly, I think we were expecting this down in performance – obviously England was a bit more disappointing than we would have hoped for. So we are now coming out of that training phase, so hopefully in the next phase we will see recovery faster and also more consistent effort during games.
Q Indian forward line is quite talented but hasn’t delivered much in New Zealand and England. Does that concern you?
Talented yes, but definitely has not delivered since New Zealand, but before that in Argentina and South Africa, they did deliver.
Q This is your second stint as Indian women team head coach – you had a pretty successful stint from mid-2012 to 2014-end – the team won a silver medal at the 2013 Asian Champions  Trophy besides bagging a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games. How would you differentiate your two coaching stints with the Indian team?
I cannot say any differences, as I treat them both as projects, the first project was to promote the youth and change the way we trained and prepared physically for tournaments. The second stint is the same, progress the group to another level which is required at the Olympics in August.
Q Realistically speaking, the Indian team isn’t expected to make a podium finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the team have shown that they can hold their own against top teams. What’s your take?
Dealing with external and internal goals is different – our goal is simple, first to make the quarter-finals and that means winning two games. When we achieve that it is just one game you have to win to have a chance to proceed, that is what we want to do, put ourselves into that position.
Q How would you assess our penalty corner conversion rate and also our ability to defend them?
On both areas, we need to work hard in the last phase on these areas, but all has to be put in line with what our priorities are and move towards having all areas covered and PCs are one of those areas.
Q Fitness- wise Indian team have made rapid strides in recent years – where do you think our team needs to work on before they start regularly beating sides like Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Great Britain?
It is the strength to be able to push that fitness level to match the rest of the world if you are physically not strong there is a limit to where you can push the physical limits.
Q You have been a big match player yourself having played in two World Cups and Seoul Olympics. The Rio Olympics is a first big tournament for the Indian girls – surely your big match experience will help our girls.
Our new assistant coach has been to 6 Olympics and as you have stated my tournaments, we can only advise on our experiences and the first will always be difficult. But the issue will be that all 16 players taking the  field, not having that experience, so we can explain and talk about our experiences, but playing we can only prepare as well as we can, and hopefully mentally they are prepared as well as they will be physically.
Q Do you feel there is more awareness about women hockey in India after we qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years?
Yes, I believe there is a more general awareness of women hockey in India, and we have played our part, what we need to do is start to play a bigger part in women’s sport by becoming consistent and performing in major international events.
Q What are the international tournaments India are playing heading into the Rio Olympics?
We have a Four Nation Tournament in Australia next week, then we select our Olympic team and then we head to USA fro a pre-Olympic holding and training camp and play matches against USA and Canada in July.
Q What will be your message to the Indian women hockey fans?
Remain positive as change takes time, and this is a major step in changing that.

Rio Olympics 2016: Lack of a boxing federation has hurt the Indian women boxers

The ‘consistent absence of a boxing federation’ in India had its first major casualty with the country’s women boxers putting up a hugely disappointing performance at the 9th AIBA World Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan. The world championship is always the most watched event as there is a lot of stake for boxers across the globe, but this time around this event had ‘extra importance’ as there were Olympic berths up for grabs.

Indian boxing fans’ eyes were on three boxers – MC Mary Kom (51-kg), Laishram Sarita Devi (60-kg) and Pooja Rani (75-kg) – all these were boxing in weight categories where Olympic spots were on offer. What is frustrating about these boxers is that none of them even came close to sealing an Olympic or at least reached the business end of the tournament.

So much was expected from Mary Kom, who made a good beginning winning her first round bout only to send the country in a state of extreme sadness with her exit in the next round losing to a German opponent. Her state-mate Laishram Sarita Devi could not even go past her first round bout against a Belarusian opponent – Pooja Rani (75-kg) did give us some hope by entering the last eight stage only to falter there.

Forget the Olympic aspirations being crushed, even the likes of Saweety Boora (81-kg) and L Sarjubala Devi (45-48-kg)– both silver medalists in the 2014 world championship – were shown the tournament exit door in the quarterfinal stage. Nikhat Zareen (54-kg) did win two bouts and like Seema Punia (81+-kg) bowed out in the last eight stage. Pavitra (64-kg) and Meena Kumari (69-kg) came a cropper crashing out in the first round.

So what explains the poor performance of our women boxers, who have been consistently winning medals at the world championships? For a nation that has never returned empty-handed from this event, it looked in danger of not winning a medal in Astana, but Sonia Lather assured one by reaching the semifinals in the 57-kg category.

The lack of urgency on the part of boxing stakeholders to have a federation in place is clearly responsible for our women boxers’ poor showing in the world championships.

Just having series of sustained training camps is not enough as our boxers were deprived of vital international exposure. The quality of sparring partners in each weight category is also crucial as merely slogging at national camps is never going to be enough. This is where our boxers cannot be faulted – in fact, they have been faring well in whatever international competitions they participate in last few years when the federation logjam was going on.

One just hopes that the stalemate regarding having a federation in place does not hurt the Olympic aspirations of our men boxers or are we going to have one boxing representative (both men and women combined) at the Rio Olympics? If we indeed have just Shiva Thapa at Rio, it will be a sad thing for Indian boxing!

Hockey: Punjab and Sind Bank - Consistent performer in Indian domestic circuit

Punjab and Sind Bank (PSB) likes to quietly go about its business without really hogging the limelight. The bank men have become the team to beat in the Indian domestic circuit. A close look at their performances in recent months will indicate that they are one of the consistent teams around.

The PSB outfit, of course, are riding high, after winning the 6th Hockey India-organised Senior Nationals (B Division) in Saifai, Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. The bank men outduelled Chandigarh 4-3 in a penalty shootout after both teams were locked 1-1 in regulation time.
The PSB side may not probably match teams like Indian Oil Corporation, BPCL, Railways, ONGC and Air India in terms of boasting off too many internationals in their ranks, but they do have a nice blend of talented internationals and domestic talent to do the job for them.

Punjab and Sind Bank features Indian striker Ramandeep Singh, goalkeeper Harjot Singh, fullback Harbir Singh besides Satbir Singh besides some other former internationals – the most prominent being Sarvanjit Singh – who never played for India after being dropped after the disastrous 2012 London Olympic campaign.
“Punjab and Sind Bank has a good team in place. Under coach Rajinder Singhji, PSB has done well. We won a tight final against Chandigarh to win the Senior Nationals (B Division). We had an easy win against Delhi in the semifinal but the final was a tough game for us – this made it four title wins for us in the last eight months or so,” says Sarvanjit Singh, who has played a part in all their wins.

Punjab and Sind Bank won the 120th Beighton Cup Hockey Tournament in Kolkata in October last year, pipping IOC 5-3 in the final after both teams were tied 1-1 in regulation time.
PSB subsequently won the 45th S.N. Vohra’s All-India Gurmit Memorial Hockey Tournament in Chandigarh in November last year, downing Punjab Police 4-0 in the final. The bank men completed a hat-trick of title wins, clinching the 52nd Nehru Senior Hockey Tournament in Delhi in the same month, beating Punjab National Bank 2-1 in the final.

And the Senior Nationals triumph in Saifai was brought one thing to the fore - Punjab and Sind Bank has clearly stolen a march over much-fancied sides like IOC, Air India and BPCL.

Rio Olympics 2016: Is time running out for Sushil Kumar?

Grappler Sushil Kumar looked like whipping up a sympathy wave but his honest efforts to have a trial to decide, who represents India in the men’s freestyle 74kg category at the Rio Olympics appears to have backfired. With the Sports Ministry clearly indicating that it will not interfere in the selection process of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), it does look as if hopes of a trial are fast fading out.

Sushil, on his part, has been categorical that he does not want any ‘favours’ because of his past laurels and only wants a trial. It is, however, difficult to overlook the case of Narsingh Yadav. The Mumbai wrestler has been wrestling in the 74-kg since he entered the senior circuit. One may say how can Narsingh assure an Olympic a medal or even ask about his current form and fitness given the fact that he qualified for the Olympics by winning a bronze at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas – that was eight months back and one is not sure what kind of match fitness he has at present.

Sushil to his discredit, has shied away from wrestling tournaments in 74-kg and only took part in 74-kg at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The fact that Sushil hasn’t wrestled in any international tourneys in his newly-switched weight category is actually going against him in his bid to have trials.

Since the last Olympics, had Sushil grappled consistently in the 74-kg category, then it would have made a strong case for a trial. But his reluctance to only focus on the Olympics and skip events is working against him.

Two back-to-back Olympic medals is a rarity for India at the Olympics when it comes to individual sports. One also feels that the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) could have avoided all the controversy by making its point clear. The WFI did give the impression that the trials will be held for the 74-kg, but now seem to be developing cold feet as they are wary that other wrestlers may demand trials in their respective weight categories.
Sushil is an icon and nobody denies that – but the Sports Ministry’s latest stand has perhaps taken the sting out of all the sympathy he was generating.

The two-fold dilemma for the WFI is – first to allow Narsingh to play in 74-kg for he has won the quota place and has been regularly playing in the same weight category for a long time and second how to deny trials to a man, who gave back-to-back Olympics medals to the country.

Trial or no trial, the WFI could have done its bit to avoid the unwanted controversy when the focus should have been more on the Olympic preparations. It’s not important whether there should be trials or a wrestler could represent the country at Olympics by virtue of winning the quota place- what’s more significant is – can India win a medal in this weight category at Rio.

Wrestlers can win 4-5 medals in Rio: Sandeep Tomar

Eyebrows were raised when Sandeep Tomar was picked in the national team for the men’s 57-kg freestyle category for the Mongolia Olympic Qualifying Tournament ahead of the likes of Amit Kumar Dahiya and Rahul Aware. But the 24-year-old wrestler, who hails from Malakpur village in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh, choose to let his wrestling do all the talking as he not only won a bronze medal in Mongolia but also won an Olympic quota place for the country. Sandeep, who is employed with the India Navy, spoke about his highs in Mongolia and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q You qualified for the men’s 57-kg freestyle category in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the backdrop of the controversy generated over the non-inclusion of Rahul Aware, who had won a bronze medal at the Astana Olympic Qualifying Event – your thoughts

Well, my federation (Wrestling Federation of India) gave me a responsibility to win an Olympic quota for my country at Mongolia, and I was really happy to have made the Olympic cut. 

Q How optimistic you are about your medal-winning chances at the Rio Olympics?

I want to assure all that I will win a medal at Rio. I have been working hard and strictly following what my coaches have been telling me, in terms of working on my shortfalls. I’m confident of pulling off a solid performance in Rio.

Q At the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Event in Mongolia, you had to battle past five rounds before winning an Olympic quota
place. How would you sum your overall performance in Mongolia?

All the bouts were good – I beat a Turkish opponent in the first round and then went on to outwrestle a Kyrgyzstan grappler, who is an Asian championship bronze medallist. My semifinal against Azerbaijan’s Mirjalal Hasanzada went right down to the wire – he took the final two points after trailing 0-6 to win the bout as the one who wins the last point goes through. The Ukrainian I beat in the bronze medal play-off bout is a world junior champion. I had to be at my best to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

Q 2016 has been a good year for you so far – besides this Olympic quota place you also won the gold medal at the 2016 Asian Championship in Bangkok.

You could say that – the 2016 Asian Championship was a big tournament for me – I beat North Korea’s Jong Hak-jin to clinch the gold medal. That performance really helped my confidence in the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers.

Q Traditionally, a wrestler who wins the quota gets to represent the country in that weight category. Your thoughts.

I don’t want to say anything – our federation will take a call on whether to allow the quota winner to play in the Olympics or conduct trials.

Q Who do you think will be biggest contenders in the 57-kg?

Wrestlers from Russia, Georgia, Iran and Mongolia are really strong and I’m expecting a stiff fight from them in Rio.

Q There is a general feeling that there is fierce competition in the men’s freestyle 57-kg category with the likes of Amit Kumar Dahiya and Rahul Aware around. What’s your take?

Robust competition is always good for any wrestler – I think it ensures every wrestler is on their toes with little room for complacency.

Q You work in the Indian Navy – how much of a support system they have been your wrestling career?

Indian Navy has been a pillar of support for me. I really feel grateful to Indian Navy for all the supported provided to me.

Q How many medals do you will think the Indian wrestling contingent can get at the Rio Olympics?

India will be fielding a big contingent – 8 wrestlers – after a long time – we had seven in 2004 Olympics – I’m confident that India can win 4-5 medals in Rio.

Don’t want to be just a participant at Rio Olympics: K Srikanth

Kidambi Srikanth is taking all care to ensure he is ready for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 23-year-old, who is ranked number twelve in the world, is fully focused on the big-ticket event. Srikanth talks about his preparations and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. How are your preparations going on for the 2016 Rio Olympics?

I’m trying to stay focused and do well in the Olympics. I will be playing in either the Australian Open or the Indonesian Open – will soon take a call on that.

Q. You are the lone representative for India in men’s singles at the Rio Olympics.

It would have been nice to have one more Indian men’s singles player at the Olympics. Unfortunately, Parupalli Kashyap got injured and HS Pranoy missed the qualifying mark by a whisker. The onus is on me to make an impact at Rio.

Q. You have beaten most top players in last two years or so – how confident are you of bagging a medal at Rio?

Well, I don’t want to go to the Rio Olympics just as a participant – my focus is to win a medal for the country. I have beaten most top shuttlers in recent times and it is not tough for me to overcome these guys. I was world number 3 for a long while and I know I have the ammunition to overcome any player on any given day. There is no bigger stage than the Olympics and I will be keen to leave a mark in Rio.

Q. How would you sum up your first few months of 2016?

I think things did not go my way in the first two-three months but I have done well in the last four-five weeks. You can’t be winning all the time and losing all the time. You will hit a winning streak or either hit a losing streak. It’s all part of the package of being an international player.

Q. How important it is to stay injury-free going into the Rio Olympics?

Look, I will try to do things in a proper way and hope for the best. You can only control things which are under your control like my body. If injuries happen, there is not much you can do.

Q. Are you trying to avoid playing too many tournaments ahead of the Rio Olympics?

I have been playing too many tournaments over the last twelve months. I had played in the SAF Games as well as the PBL. The coming three months are crucial for me and I don’t want to play in too many events so that I remain fresh at Rio.

Q. Finally, how was your PBL experience?

It was a fantastic experience. I just hope the PBL is held every year without any hiccups – there is no doubt that PBL has given a big boost to Indian badminton.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rio Olympics 2016: WFI must act quickly on men’s freestyle 74-kg representation

He won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games despite being a late-minute entrant and had won a bronze at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games as well. It is seen in Indian wrestling that selection trials are held for each weight category to assess the current form of a grappler before any international event, and when a quota is earned for Olympics, a person who wins the quota invariably gets to play in the Olympics.

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is greeted by an ‘unwanted crisis’ – whom to pick in the men’s freestyle 74kg for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The controversy got its birth after Narsingh Yadav won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship in Las Vegas, USA last year- thus ensuring the country’s Olympic quota for that weight category.

It was the WFI who had talked about holding trials to pick the country’s representative in the men’s freestyle 74kg. What hasn’t helped matters is that both players are openly talking about it in public domain. Narsingh Yadav has been vocal that he deserves the right to represent India at Rio.

The Mumbai lad has for a long time wrestled in the 74kg, while Sushil Kumar switched to 74kg from 66kg only a few years back. Performance counts and Narsingh has won medals at major international competitions.
Sushil is not saying he should be picked ahead of Narsingh. All he is asking for is a trial between the two.
Narsingh has been harping on this point and to some extent appears justified in saying so.
Sushil hasn’t played in any competitive event since the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – this may just go against him but make no mistake, this champion wrestler is believed to be training very hard for the Rio Olympics. Narsingh has been categorical that he deserved to book the flight to Rio for the men’s freestyle 74kg.

It may not be easy for the WFI to satisfy the concerns of both wrestlers. A country, which rides high on emotions and past laurels, may just see Sushil have the last laugh – the much-anticipated trial could be the best possible answer to calm the chit-chat going on in public domain.

The WFI must talk to both wrestlers and ask them to refrain from making comments on the issue. The federation, on its part, must take a call sooner than later so that the Olympic preparations of the wrestling contingent remain the main focus area and not the unwanted controversy generated over who gets to represent India at the Rio Olympics in the men’s freestyle 74kg.

Saweety Boora braces for 2016 AIBA World Championship

She oozes bundles of positive energy and often her soft-spoken exterior belies her fierce-in-ring determination. Saweety Boora is just 22 and seems like she has already achieved a lot in the international circuit. For someone, who hogged the limelight when she won the 2009 Senior Nationals, this Hisar lass has been making the most of the opportunities coming her way. Her back-to-back gold medals in the 2013 and 2014 Senior Nationals literally readied her for the big league.

She came up with a blockbuster performance at the 2014 AIBA World Championship in Jeju City, Korea. Almost a non-entity when she headed to Korea for the marquee event, she ensured Indian boxing fans will at least remember her for a long time.

The boxer made her way into the final, where she lost to China’s Yang Xiaoli. A silver medal in her debut World Championship is some achievement – two years passed by and Saweety is hungrier than ever to improve on her silver medal of 2014 and pocket the yellow metal. “I’m training hard for the 2016 AIBA World Championship in Kazakhstan. Hopefully, I will be able to live up to the expectations of everyone,” Saweety says in an informal chat.

Saweety, who works with the Income Tax department as Inspector, knows a podium finish in a world championship is a tough challenge. “Boxers are really strong from most countries, especially China and Kazakhstan. I have to deliver my best to match them,” she puts things in perspective.

The demure boxer is clearly richer with the 2014 world championship experience. Saweety also won a silver medal at the 2015 Asian Confederation Championship in China, again losing to the same Chinese opponent who denied her a gold medal at the 2014 AIBA World Championship.

“She is a tough nut to crack. I have lost to her twice and will have my plans ready for her this time around. She is not an easy boxer to face up to for sure,” Boora says.

Clearly, Indian boxing fans will hope for big things from Saweety.

Interview with Tanvi Lad: "Funding is crucial to my progress"

Tanvi Lad is an exciting women singles prospect, who is quietly doing the hard yards in pursuit of clambering up the ranking ladder and making the country proud. The Mumbai youngster who capped off a runner-up finish at the 2016 Senior Nationals in Chandigarh, spoke about her game and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. Indian badminton has seen the likes of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu dominate the women’s singles scene – how do you see yourself as a significant third force in the women’s singles category for India?

Yes indeed! Saina and Sindhu have dominated the women singles scene. However, I always have an inner belief that I too, can compete at the highest level of world badminton and be successful. With
passion for my game so strong, I feel that coupled with my strong work ethic, discipline and untiring dedication, and the right exposure in tournaments, it’s only a matter of time before I start performing really well on the world stage.

Q. Do you play doubles regularly – how difficult it is to balance workload for both singles and doubles?

After winning the under-16 doubles national title, I quit playing competitive doubles. I have focussed my energies entirely on singles as both events require specialised training to compete at the highest levels. At the Super Series level, every round is like a final, so recovery is very important and playing two events thus becomes very difficult.

Q. How would you sum up your singles performance in 2016 so far?

 would like to term 2016 as a comeback year after ‘a not so great 2015’. I’m quite happy with the corrections and the improvements that I have made in my game – this was evident in my match vs Saina at the 2016 India Open and subsequently at the National Championships at Chandigarh. So I’m happy with my progress and looking forward to the year ahead.

Q. You lost the 2016 Senior Nationals final to PC Thulasi in Chandigarh – throw light on your overall experience in the nationals?

Overall I had a satisfying performance at the Senior Nationals – three months prior to the event I was working on certain long-pending corrections in footwork and other technical stuff. It is not an easy task at this stage of my career to correct things that I have been used to doing for so many years.

So my performance was a reflection that my progress is happening on the right track, though there still is a lot of work to accomplish. Although unfortunately I lost the Senior Nationals final, I played the right game but made errors as my new game style is not entirely a part of me as yet but I was happy with the overall performance.

You have a bit of healthy rivalry with PC Thulasi – both are employed with PSPB as well. Your thoughts.

me and Thulasi have similar game styles and even our work ethic is very similar. We have played some gruelling matches with our longest being 1 hour 35 mins!! We share a healthy rivalry and respect each other.

Q. At the 2015 Tata Open International Challenge, you upset reigning World Junior champion Jin Wei Goh of Malaysia – must be carrying fond memories of that win.

Yes, that was a good win!! It was the first round and she had been in
great form that year winning the world juniors and some events in Europe but I went in and played a great match – I was hitting the lines well and defending well as well - she probably couldn’t read my game.

Q. The 2013 Swiss International Tournament was your maiden international appearance in singles – how special was it for you?

The Swiss International Challenge is a special memory, especially the semifinal against the Japanese opponent which was a gruelling hard fought win! The medal ceremony was special too. Although it was a challenge event, the national anthem was played at the time of awarding the medal, which was quite emotional!!

Q. Where do you want to be in terms of rankings by 2016-end?

I aim to break into top 25 in the next one year but funding for me is very crucial. In order to achieve this
target I need to go out and compete in at least 12-15 events. This is an expensive affair and a major concern for me at the moment. I need a good sponsor to further my aspirations.

Q. What improvement areas you want to focus on your game?

I’m working on certain technical corrections - footwork and racket carriage and overall becoming a lot more proactive rather than reactive on court.

Q. Tell us a bit how you started playing badminton – all coaches you played under and their duration and place?

I started playing with Hufrish Nariman at Bombay gym – I won my 1st Inter-school title under her. I trained from the age of 13-19 years with Uday Pawar and won the Junior Nationals under him.

Moved to the national camp in Hyderabad in 2012 and trained at the Gopichand academy under chief national coach Pullela Gopichand Sir and have been there for the past 3 years…I had some great wins like the 2014 Bahrain International Challenge 2014, runners-up at 2013 Swiss International, bronze medal at the Asian games and 2014 Uber Cup 2014 – all are special memories.
I have been undergoing a short corrective stint with Tom John in Bangalore over the last three months. At each stage of my journey as a player, each coach has done their very best for me and contributed to the player I’m today! I owe everything to them!

Q. How do you unwind when you are not playing badminton?

I enjoy indulging in retail therapy, swimming and listening to music helps me destress and relaxing with family and friends is a true indulgence that I rarely get to enjoy!

The 2016 AIBA World Championship will not just be about snapping up Olympic spots – for many it will be much more than. India have fond memories of the 2014 AIBA World Championship held in Jeju City, Korea, where they bagged two silver medals via Sarjubala Devi (48 kg) and Saweety Bora (81kg).

A lot will be expected from the Indian women boxers as they sweat it out at the ongoing national camp for the upcoming 2016 AIBA World Championship to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan from May 19-27.  Indian women pugilists will be looking to leave a big impression in the nine-day showpiece event where they are expected to not just focus on attaining a podium finish but sealing Olympic berths for three available weight categories.

Iconic MC Mary Kom will, of course, be the focus of all attention as she will make a bid to qualify for the Olympics which is set to be her boxing swansong. L Sarita Devi and Pooja Rani will have to bring their best to the ring if they are harbouring hopes of taking the ring in Rio.

Both Sarjubala and Saweety are talented youngsters and it will not be much of a surprise if they churn out an encore of 2014.

Indian women boxers have always done well at the AIBA World Championship – barring the 2010 edition, where they won only one medal, the country’s boxers have always made a mark. “All our boxers are working hard – let’s hope for the best,” says Indian women boxing coach Anoop Kumar.
The Indian women boxing coach believes past performances count for nothing. “Our boxers have done well in the last World Championships but we have to understand one thing – competition is fiercer than ever as every country is working hard to corner glory in the ring,” he says.
Anoop is bullish about India improving on their haul of two silver medals at the last edition. “Our girls have the potential to surprise any opponent but we hope to come home with a rich haul of medals,” he signs off.
Of course, there are reasons to be optimistic – after all, the boxing contingent has the likes of Mary Kom, Sarita, Sarjubala and Saweety to turn it on at Astana.

Interview with wrestler Hardeep Singh: "Will strive to live up to expectations in Rio"

It’s not often that India have a representation in greco-roman wrestling at the Olympics. And the 2016 Rio Olympics will feature talented Haryana grappler Hardeep Singh in the 98-kg category.
Hardeep is the first Indian greco-roman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in twelve years, and the first one to make the cut in the heavyweight category. The Railway employee, who started as a freestyle wrestler before switching to greco-roman wrestling, spoke about the upcoming Rio Olympics and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. How does it feel to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics considering the fact that you are the country’s first greco-roman wrestler to represent the country after a gap of twelve years?

Bahut acha laga
(Felt really good) when I reached the final of the 98-kg in the Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan as it ensured my Olympic berth. My confidence is really high and I hope to build on this momentum at Rio. Our other greco-roman wrestlers fought really hard and lost narrowly and it is not that I only performed well. I know expectations will be high and I will strive to live up to them.

Q. You had bagged a silver medal at the 2016 Asian Wrestling Championship in Bangkok, where you lost to Iran’s
Mehdi Aliyari in the 98-kg final.

Winning a silver medal at Bangkok really gave me a lot of self-belief – it made me feel that I can win on the big stage. Of course, I could not bring my A-game in the final and lost comprehensively to Mehdi, but the runners-up finish was good for my confidence ahead of the Olympic qualifiers in Astana.

Q. At the 2016 Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, you outwrestled opponents from Turkemistan and Kazakhstan en route to the final.

Both bouts were pretty one-sided. The semifinal against Margulan Assembekov was a tactical fought bout as I worked on tiring him out - it worked and I won easily.

Q. You did not take the ring for the final and conceded it to China’s Xiao Di owing to an elbow injury.

I had sustained this elbow injury during the 2016 Asian Wrestling Championship in Bangkok and some niggles were still there in Astana. I aggravated it more during my semifinal bout and my coaches keeping the Olympics in mind decided I concede the final bout.

Q. Greco-roman wrestling hasn’t seen much success in India unlike freestyle wrestling – you are only the sixth greco-roman grappler to qualify for the Olympics. Do you think your Olympic qualifying feat will serve as a big boost to the sport in the country?

I really hope so as I feel that there is lot of potential for greco-roman wrestling in India. I’m confident more greco-roman grapplers will burst on to the scene and reap laurels for the country.

Q. You have dominated the national scene as well in the greco-roman 98-kg category – it must have helped you when you hit the international stage.

Of course, it helps in a big way as there is nothing like winning. I have won the gold medal at the senior nationals for three consecutive years in greco-roman 98-kg – 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Q. You started off as freestyle wrestler early in your career but switched to greco-roman after the 2009 Junior Nationals.

I did start my wrestling career in freestyle category but in 2009 my coach Ranbir Singh asked me to switch to greco-roman and there has not been any looking back after that.

Q. Tell us a bit about your family?

I hail from Dohla village of Haryana's Jind district – my father is a farmer and I have one sister and one younger brother - both are married.

Q. You are 26 – you have got your younger brother married – when will you tie the knot?

Olympics is my focus area – I don’t think I will get married at least for next three-four years (grins).

Rio Olympics 2016: Indian weightlifters exude hope before the games

It was one final opportunity for the Indian weightlifters to make a mark at the 2016 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. And it was a final opportunity simply because it was the last Olympic qualifying event with only the African, Oceania and Pan American Championships being held in the months of May and June.

A lot was at stake for the Indian weightlifting in Tashkent and they did not disappoint bagging two Olympic quotas in both the men’s and women’s section. The Indian women comprising the likes of Sanjita Chanu and Mirabai Chanu put up a dogged performance logging 100 points in the women’s team event to finish third behind Vietnam and Uzbekistan.

The Indian men accumulated 129 points to finish sixth in the men’s team event. The qualification rules stipulate that countries must finish in the top-seven to make the Olympic cut. 

The two Olympic berths must be a welcome relief for the Indian weightlifting contingent after the country’s lifters had turned in a disappointing performance at the 2015 World Weightlifting Championship in Houston, USA.

Indian weightlifting head coach Vijay Sharma had expressed his optimism before heading for Uzbekistan that the team would finish in the top seven and the lifters just did that.

Sharma, a former national-level weightlifter, is relieved to see the country bag two Olympic berths. “I’m happy to see our weightlifters bag two Olympic quotas. It augurs well for the future. I was confident that both our men and women teams will do well in Tashkent and they performed well. Our women team finished third which is a creditable achievement,” he says with elation.

The Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) will conduct trials across all weight divisions to select two lifters -- one man and one woman -- to represent the country at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The federation will decide on the date of the trials later. “Our boys and girls will take a break and gear up for the nationals. The trials will be competitive as Olympic berths are up for grabs. We want our lifters to be in the podium finish, although it will not be easy,” Sarma quips.

One hopes that the Indian lifters makes the most of the two Olympic quota places and makes the country proud in Rio.

Boxing Federation of India set to introduce zonal representation system

Boxing is all set to change the way it is run in the country. The newly-created Boxing Federation of India is all set to introduce the zonal representation system in their Executive Committee – a move which appears to be a step in the right direction.

The federation’s new constitution divides India into 8 zones - each zone are expected to comprise about 4-5 state units and 16 executive committee members. “I think it is a forward-looking move.

“These eight zones will comprise 8 zonal vice presidents and 8 zonal secretaries – they will be selected from its all India voters - 2 each from BFI's 36 member states & union territories,” an official closely involved in the latest developments said.

Boxing Federation of India has also decided to induct boxers directly in the executive committee. 4 boxers - 2 males and 2 female will be elected in the federation’s executive committee independently. “2 past performers and 2 practicing Champions ( 1 male + 1 female each ) will be inducted in the BFI Executive Committee through an independent election to be held among boxers,” the official added.

There is another positive development as well - the Sports Ministry has given its NOC to the registration of the Boxing Federation of India federation. “This is really good news for all of us. The Ministry will send an observer for the elections also. We also need to get recognition of the Indian Olympic Association (IOC) – once we get that everything will fall in place,” the official.
Indian boxing is looking good for now, and formation of the federation seems to be only a ‘matter of time’ – hopefully, Indian boxers will get to box in the Rio Olympics under the national flag and not under the AIBA as was the case in recent times.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Interview with Parupalli Kashyap: "Hope to return to competitive action by June"


Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life. India’s ace shuttler Parupalli Kashyap is trying hard to take this injury setback in his stride – setback because the injury will not heal in time for him to be available for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The 29-year-old Hyderabad lad is expected to return to competitive action by June. The cut-off date for Olympic qualification was May 4 and Kashyap’s knee injury puts a seal of confirmation on him not playing in the Rio Olympics. He talks about his injury and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. How is your rehab program going on?

It’s been going on okay. I think I will need about three weeks for my medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury my knee to heal. After the MCL heals my doctors will take a call on my future course of action.

I would like to thank Olympic Gold Quest for taking good care of me after I slipped and fell in the pre-quarterfinal of the German Open. OGQ brought me to Mumbai and arranged the doctors and physios for me.

Q. Is there still any outside chance of you making your second Olympic appearance?

To be honest, my Olympic-playing hopes are over. May 4 was the cut-off date for the world’s top 16 to make the cut and since I have missing tournaments one after another due to my injury, my rankings also fell and now it is a reality that I won’t be playing in the Rio Olympics.

Q. Is it because May is the cut-off date for the world’s top 16 to qualify for the Olympics that you are missing the marquee event? Had the cut-off date had been a few months later, do you think you still had a chance of qualifying for the Olympics?

Not really. There aren’t too many tournaments happening after May.

Q. How much of a disappointment it is to miss your Olympics?

It is a big disappointment but I can’t control injuries. I must have missed six-seven tournaments since the German Open and I also have to remember that I had calf injury in October which put me of competitive action for two months. I missed about 11-12 tourneys and was out of action for six months.

Q. You skipped the 2016 SAF Games to get your calf injury adequate rest.

I took that call as I wanted to be fully fit and not carry any niggles. In fact, I was feeling really good in February – like fully fit and made my comeback in the Syed Open and in the Premier Badminton League.

Q. When do you think you can realistically expect to return to the competitive circuit?

I hope to be back on court by June. Olympic is out of question but at least a player I’m optimistic about staging a comeback.

Q. You played for Hyderabad Hotspots in the Premier Badminton League (PBL). How was your experience?

It was excellent – a league well conducted. All I hope is that it happens every year and it will be a boon for Indian badminton.

Interview with Oinam Bembem Devi: "Strong grassroot level programmes will help women's football"

Q. You played for Manipur for 20 years – you played 80 internationals and scored 32 goals – you were part of the Manipur team that won the senior nationals 17 times, and you were captain 9 times.
Oinam Bembem Devi
has been the ‘Pillar’ of the Indian senior women’s football team for two decades. Understandably, her decision to call time on her international career after the 2016 SAF Games will leave a big void in the Indian midfield position.

The 37-year-old vastly experienced midfielder played for 20 years for the country since making her international debut in 1995 as a 15-year-old. Bembem, who is employed with Manipur Police, talks about the state of women’s football in India and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. You decided to retire from international football after playing for the country for 20 years. Was this decision a planned one?

Look, I took a decision to quit international football in December and apprised AIFF about it. The 2016 SAF Games was coming up in Guwahati and Shillong – I was asked if I could play in the SAF Games and I agreed to play in the event, which turned out to be my international swansong.

Q. You also played for Manipur for one last time at the 21st Senior National Football Championship in Jabalpur, where your home state lost to Railways 3-4 on penalties.

Our girls really worked hard and we reached the final. I scored a goal in the final, where both teams were locked 3-3 after extra time. It was hard luck for us but the girls played their hearts out.

Q. What plans you have post retirement?

I made my senior international debut in 1995 as a 15-year-old boy and after playing for 20 years, I would like to contribute to the sport. I may take up coaching activities but as of now, I haven’t decided on anything.
I’m proud of my achievements. I feel happy to have contributed for my state and the country.

Q. Tells us a bit about you playing in a foreign league in 2014?

I played in the Maldives league in June 2014 for New Radiant. The league in Maldives is quite competitive – players from Germany, Sri Lanka and other nations came on loan to play in the league. Maldives has good infrastructure for women’s football and the league was conducted professionally.

Q. What is your biggest moment as a player?

It has to be winning the 2016 SAF Games gold medal. The crowd in Shillong was massive – I have never seen such huge crowds before. The way I was honoured for my farewell match was something I can never forget.

Q. How do you see the infrastructure for women’s football in India?

States like Manipur, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharastra have good grassroots level program for women footballers but I think women’s football must have proper infrastructure across all states as it will help to build a strong national team.

Q. Manipur players dominate the national side - at times the team is packed with players of the North Eastern state.

Manipur has craze for women’s football and that is why you see more girls from our state in the Indian team. At times, the team have eight to ten players from Manipur, if you include those state girls who go to Bihar or outside Manipur to take up jobs in Railways the number will of state players will be more.

Q. Finally how is important is a I-League type league for Indian women’s football?

I have heard that such kind of league will happen. If it happens, Indian women’s football will get really strong as we don’t have too many domestic tournaments during the year.

Interview with shuttler Sameer Verma: Staying injury-free really helped my game

Sameer Verma is a breath of fresh air for Indian badminton. The 21-year-old Madhya Pradesh lad, who is employed with Air India, has had a phenomenal run over the last one year or so, attaining a world ranking of 35 after hovering around 262 at the start of 2015. The soft-spoken shuttler joined the Gopichand Academy in 2010 and has strung together some big wins in recent months scalping the likes of Tien Minh Nguyen, Wang Zhengming and Hu Yun.

The 2015 Senior National Championship runners-up, who is now looking ahead to the upcoming 2016 edition in Chandigarh starting April 6, spoke about his meteoric rise and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. You were ranked 262 at the start of 2015 and you have now soared into the top-50 reaching a ranking of 35 in the first few months of 2016. How would you sum up your impressive run in last one year or so?

I always look to raise the performance bar and the fact that I steered clear of nagging injuries helped me to play consistently and move up the ranking ladder.

Q. What is that one factor that helped to perform so consistently – you have won three tournaments in last few months– back-to-back crowns in Bahrain, followed by the Tata Open title?

As I said earlier it really helped that I was able to stay injury-free during his period and that allowed me to train hard and perform at my best. Of course, I’m more focused than ever before – all these things really helped to bring about marked improvement in my game. As you know getting injured is never a good thing as you spent a lot of time in rehab and you can’t be at the peak of your powers on a comeback trail.

Q. How was it like beating your elder brother Sourabh in the final of the Tata Open in Mumbai?

I took up badminton after watching him play. Sourabh is not just my elder brother, but also my mentor, guide and friend – all rolled into one. We share a lot of things and share a great bond.

Q. Your elder brother was in the top-30 for a long time but seems to be struggling to string together consistent wins. Your thoughts.

Sourabh is a talented player – it is just that he had endured prolonged injuries last year like elbow and knee injuries, which really dented his game. He was not able to play regularly in the international circuit and hence his rankings also suffered. I’m sure he will bounce back sooner than later.

Q. How satisfying was it winning the back-to-back singles crowns in Bahrain last year?

I have fond memories of annexing the Bahrain International Badminton Challenge at Isa Town. I upset top seed Tien Minh Nguyen of Vietnam in the quarterfinals. It was a down-to-the-wire contest – I had lost the first game 17-21 but came back hard to level things winning the second game at 21-14 before winning the decider 21-9.

Q. Now that you are ranked 35 in the world, how do you intend to climb further up?

Look, moving up the ranking ladder takes a lot of effort but staying there is even tougher. I would look to stay consistent and strive to break into the top-10 by 2016-end.

Q. Every shuttler looks to improve – what will be your focus areas in terms of raising the performance bar?

I believe I need to be stronger mentally. Of course, there is no full stop to learning and I’m going to keep working in all aspects of my game.

Q. Which has been the most memorable singles win on the international circuit so far?

I had some great wins in recent months but my win over China’s Wang Zhengming in the second round of the Swiss Open. I won in straight games 21-19, 22-20 has to be my best career win so far. Of course, I also upset Hong Kong’s Hu Yun in the first round of the All England Championship, but my victory over Wang was special.

Q. Tell us a bit about your family?

I hail from Dhar township which is near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. My father, who happens to be my first coach, works in the Narmada Valley Development Authority, while my mother is a housewife.

Interview with N Sikki Reddy: "Want to break into top-30 in mixed doubles"

N Sikki Reddy shunned singles owing to a serious knee and on doctors’ advice she switched to doubles – the Hyderabad girl has surely done justice to her ‘switch’ winning the senior nationals in women doubles as well as finishing runners-up in mixed doubles.

The 22-year-old – a product of Gopichand Academy – also won the mixed doubles gold at the 2016 SAF Games besides finishing runners-up in women doubles. Sikki made her senior international debut in 2009 and was part of the Indian team that won the bronze medal in the women’s team event at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. She talks about her game and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. You won the 2016 Senior Nationals crown in women’s doubles alongside Pradnya Gadre and finished runners-up in mixed doubles alongside Pranav Jerry Chopra. Your thoughts

I expected to win both the titles but unfortunately lost my mixed doubles very closely 22-20, 22-20, it's was just not our day. But losing makes me work more harder and harder. I didn't have any pressure at all in the women doubles as Pradnya had just returned from injury – she was off the court for 6 months and had hardly practised before the nationals. So it was good that we won the nationals as this will give confidence to Pradnya.

Q. How would sum up your performance at the recent Singapore Open?

We played good at the Singapore open as we didn't have any pressure at all because me and Pranav Jerry Chopra just started playing mixed doubles and our progress was going quite well from the New Zealand Open and India Open. Hopefully, we would continue this consistency and upset some top pairs.

Q. You regularly play in women doubles and mixed doubles – how difficult to cope with both categories in terms of workload?

There is a lot of difference between women and mixed doubles. It's quite difficult to manage both but from past few months I was concentrating more on mixed doubles as my women doubles partner was injured. When you play the both the events the workload also increases, so you have to prepare for that mentally and physically, then only you can play both the events.

Q. I believe you left singles long back. Any reason for that?

I have injured my knee couple of times - ACL & Meniscus. So my doctor told me if you love the sport and if you wish to continue for a long time then you have to shift to doubles.

Q. What are the goals you have set for 2016?

I want to break into the top-30 by 2016-end in mixed doubles and win a couple of Grand Prix tournaments with the new partner (Pranav Jerry Chopra). My women doubles partner Pradnya is still not so fit, so once she is completely ok we will sit and plan.

Q. Which has been the most cherished win so far?

My mixed doubles win at the 2016 South Asian Games.

Q. What are the areas you would like to improve?

I have to do a lot of explosive training and strength. Physically I need to be more strong and on court I have to be consistent. I should not commit simple mistakes – that's the difference between me and top international players.

Q. Indian shuttlers now have a specialist doubles coach – how much are you benefitting?

It’s good that we got a doubles coach, we have got new ideas on the doubles how to play and what type of training we do. Our doubles coach is focusing more on the juniors and the players who has the chance to play in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Q. You represented Chennai Smashers in the PBL – how was the overall PBL experience?

It's sad that I didn't get any chance to play in the PBL but I have learnt a lot from the players of our team during practise sessions, which gave me confidence. My team members have good friends thanks to the PBL. Hopefully, next time they will put up a new rule that every foreigner has to play doubles with one Indian then it will be fun!

Q. Can you elaborate on how you started taking up badminton – who was the coaches from the beginning till your entry in Gopichand Academy?

My father loves sports - he and my dad’s brother Manohar Reddy (Babai) had enrolled me at a summer camp in 2002 at the Lal Bahadur Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad. I have won the summer camp tournament, so the coaches over there told my parents that I have good talent and that they should bring me for practice regularly. Goverdhan Reddy was my  first coach and then in 2004, I moved to the Gopichand academy.

How the WFI was justified in picking Sandeep Tomar ahead of Rahul Aware

Of course, Sandeep has no guarantee that he will wrestle in Rio as the WFI is likely to conduct trials between Sandeep and Amit Kumar Dahiya to decide who books the flight to Rio.

The Indian wrestling contingent’s preparations for the Olympic Qualifiers in Mongolia was marred by the controversy surrounding wrestler Rahul Aware’s move not to board the flight to Georgia for a training stint because his name was missing from the 57-kg category for the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers.

The manner in which Rahul refused to travel with the team to Georgia did ruffle the feathers of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) as they picked Sandeep Tomar ahead of him for the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers.

Now, the WFI scored a ‘moral high point’ after Sandeep Tomar bagged a bronze medal in the 57-kg in the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers, thus ensuring an Olympic berth for India in Rio.

The point is – Sandeep’s bronze-medal effort has ensured two things – first, the WFI was justified in picking him ahead of Aware and second, Aware’s Olympic aspirations are truly over after his recent unbecoming act.
Aware had no business to behave in the manner he did and should have exercised patience as one more Olympic qualifying tournament was anyway happening in May in Turkey.

The WFI, on his part, has shown that it was keen to try out all grapplers to pick his best choice for the Rio Olympics. The fact that the WFI wants to conduct trials between Sandeep and Amit Kumar Dahiya indicates that it does not nurse any grudge against anyone and only wants to pick the best medal prospect for the Rio Olympics.

The unsavoury controversy before the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers has one big loser – Rahul Aware, who actually won a bronze medal like Sandeep in the earlier Olympic qualifiers but in that event, only two finalists secured Olympic spots.

Aware is a talented wrestler but he could have avoided an unwanted controversy and now there will be a question mark over his international career.

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