They trained for hours, overcame financial crises and emerged victorious. And in their success lies the victory of the nation.
From competing in an oversized second-hand pair of shoes to clinching a medal for a father who was killed by forest mafia, each of these young Indian athletes fought incredible odds to keep our tricolour flying high at Youth Olympic Games 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This is a modest attempt at documenting their heartwarming successes!
Praveen Chitravel was only eight years old when he started training with Indira Suresh, a coach from the Sports Development Authority.
The 16-year-old lad who hails from the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu wasn’t born with a silver spoon. His father works as a watchman at the school he once studied in, and his mother is a humble farmhand.
And though his financial instability was a major roadblock in his path, the young athlete clinched a bronze medal in the Men’s Triple Jump, finishing with a combined total of 31.52m.
Recalling the days of struggle, the champion talks about how his coach has been a major driving force through his 8-year career.
Speaking to the Indian Express, he says, “The reason I am good in athletics, the reason I came this far and the reason I have an Olympic medal around my neck…it’s all because of her. She has bought me shoes when I needed them, from her own money. She makes sure I have everything required for my training and diet.”
When he had suffered a threatening knee injury four years ago, the sports hostel he was staying at wanted to throw him out. However, Indira intervened, fighting tooth and nail to convince the authorities about his athletic talent. She even sheltered the young boy at her own home and took care of him.
“She helped with my recovery and training. And at the very first competition after the recovery, I bagged gold,” Chitravel adds.
When he first started learning archery, his bow was a wooden contraption, and his targets were makeshift, placed on a pile of cow dung ‘uple’ or cakes.
And so, when the 16-year-old clinched a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games 2018 in the men’s recurve archery category, his father and coach couldn’t have been prouder.
It all began when the young boy visited a friend. He thought it was meant for hunting in the fields. But when he strung the bow in the first attempt, he insisted his father get him one.
Hailing from the village of Umra in Haryana, Akash’s father, Narender Malik, is a cotton farmer with a monthly income of Rs 11,000.
A bow cost Rs 3,500, which was one-third of his salary. Although he couldn’t buy the bow for his son right away, he left no stone unturned to encourage the boy chase his dreams.
Their house and field were also about four kms away from the village. Yet the father-son duo would walk and cycle to the archery centre every day to train under self-trained coach Manjeet Singh Malik.
According to the coach, balance and technique were the young athlete’s biggest strengths. Moreover, his attempts with the wooden contraption also helped him adjust well to professional bows later.
In rain or scorching summers when the temperatures reached 46 degrees, Akash never stopped training.
“In Argentina, it was windy in the earlier rounds, but he showed his maturity. It was raining lightly in the final, but he made a comeback after the first two rounds. His medal is the biggest for the academy, and when he comes back, all the trainees would seek his autograph,” the coach beamed in an interview with The Indian Express.
Suraj was only six-months-old when his father, forest guard Udai Singh Panwar, was killed by forest mafia in the Mohand area of the Asarodi Range in Dehradun.
He became the only Indian athlete to win a silver medal in the men’s 5,000 m race walk in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Earlier this year, he also won the gold medal in the 1,000 m race walk event in U-20 category at the Junior Federation Cup in Vijayawada.
His mother, who couldn’t even complete her primary education, works a small-time job at the forest department nursery. She could hardly afford to buy him new race walking shoes. And so, Suraj, the youngest of three sons, first started competing in PT shoes.
While his mother worked tireless hours, Suraj raced with his friends in his village Kaarabari. His school was situated in another village, Jhewardi. It was his school PT teacher Vikas Yadav who encouraged him to become an athlete, four years ago.
He started sprinting in various school and inter-school events first. Two years later, he was selected for the Maharana Pratap Sports College, Dehradun, where he shared a room on rent with two students.
His brothers helped him financially too. While one of them working at a Jaipur hotel sent money, the other bought him tracksuits.
It may also come as a surprise that the shoes he competed in at the Youth Olympics were a second-hand pair of shoes presented to him by none other than Olympian Manish Singh Rawat, the pair he wore for the Commonwealth Games.
They were oversized, but Suraj wore an extra pair of socks for fitting.
Speaking to the Indian Express, his coach, Anoop Bisht, shares, “When he first came to me, he did not know even basics of race walking. For more than two months, we taught him about creeping and bending techniques, and he would listen and try it for hours. Unlike other events, race walking needs more technical knowledge, and he would also read books on it. Whatever shoes he wears, whether second hand or old, he tried to give his best. And that has been his biggest strength.”
So don’t just dream about success, work for it, like these champions did.
We wish each of them luck and success for the journey ahead!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)