New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) Avtar Singh, only the second Indian to make it to the Olympics after the qualification norm was intorduced, is determined to prove his worth and make the country proud at the Rio Games.
The 24-year-old from Gurdaspur district of Punjab competes in the 90 kg category and became the first Indian judoka to qualify for the quadrennial event since Akram Shah (60kg) appeared in the 2004 Games.
Avtar underwent training-cum-competition stints in Georgia, Hungary and Russia over the last couple of Months in the run up to the Olympics.
“Georgia, Hungary and France are powerhouses of judo. In Asia, South Korea and Japan are tough nuts to crack. So viewing all that points we decided on the venues where I can get maximum exposure and will get skilled co-partner to practice,” Avtar told IANS before leaving for the Olympics.
Standing at 6 feet 2 inch, Avtar is among the tallest in his category in the world. Serving in the Punjab Police as an assistant sub-inspector, Avtar has represented India in all the Gram Slam and Grand Pix judo competitions over the last two years. He also participated in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England in 2012.
“The last two months were very crucial for me and I have utilised every bit of the exposure that I got. I owe a lot to Solanki ji. He is my coach, guide and brother. I want to give credit to Punjab Police, JSW and my coach for my success.”
Avtar’s coach Yashpal Solanki, a former Arjuna Awardee judoka and now a senior intelligence officer with the Punjab Police, is confident that his ward is in with a chance to win an Olympic medal.
“We have tried to polish Avtar’s strong points and have also worked on his weaknesses to help him get red of them. He is a liitle bit weak in locking and socking so we have tried to get rid of that,” Solanki said.
“He is the tallest judoka in the world in his category, so he has an advantage over others. His qualities are endurance, height and he is alert. There have been around 30 events that he could have participated in, but he has played in only six of them. The others have participated in over 20 to 25 of them, so they more points than Avtar,” he added.
“But if he had gotten enough exposure and opportunities to take part in more events, he would have surely brought home an Olympic medal. Still, if he gets enough opportunities in the remaining two months, he can still win a medal.”
Solanki’s confidence and positivity is creditable given the fact that Avtar has his share of problems with the national judo federation and has been a victim of apathy by officials — an all too familiar story in Indian sports.
Avtar competed in just six events from 2015 until May 2016, with problems with the federation and inadequate funding preventing him from travelling to tournaments.
Before a Grand Prix event in Turkey earlier this year, his parents gave him their life savings to allow him to pay for tickets to travel to the tournament.
He won gold at the 2016 South Asian Games and before reaching the semi-finals of the the Asian Judo Championships where he lost Komronshokh Ustopiriyon of Tajikistan. He then defeated Saeed Moradi of Iran in the repcharge round before losing his final bout to Chinese judoka Xunzhao Cheng to take the fifth position.
His performance this year allowed him to climb from below 200 to 79th in the world rankings, which enabled him to grab one of the Asian continental qualification quota places for the Olympics.
“Our federations is de-recognised by the government of India. The federation is not following the sports code, which it should. Despite the de-recognistion, the president and the secretary-general of the federation are unaffected, it’s the players who are affected by the move,” Solanki lamented.
“The athletes do not get any recognistion for any performance, they are not entitled for any scholarships and they are not eligible to get any financial assistance for initernational events. I think that the players should not be affected by any such move as they play for the country and not the federation.”
(Ajeyo Basu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)