Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Abhinav Bindra’s gold makes us proud and ends a long drought. However, though there are no official statistics, there is little doubt that on a per capita basis, India finishes last in any Olympic medal tally. Dead last. Seventeen countries earned more medals in 2004 than India has in all the Olympic Games combined. Over the last few weeks, commentators have blamed our Olympic shortfall on the woeful training infrastructure in India, the low priority we put on sports as a society and the Indian physique. But they’re wrong. Whatever it is that keeps us from Olympic gold, it isn’t a shortfall in the Indian gene pool. Take any Olympic sport and we will see that India is rich in future champions — but only if we look in the right places. If you have visited an Indian construction site, you will find many a potential gymnastics champion. I recently saw a man walking across thin planks on the 15th floor of a building. He did this with no safety harness of any kind. The only thing keeping him from falling down was his belief that he could hold himself firm and steady. Bring that man down 200 feet and put him on a four-foot-high balance beam and surely he will dance Bollywood tunes on the beam. India could easily field a gymnastics team from our numerous construction sites. Take the rickshawpullers. Subsisting on a high protein and carbohydrate diet of dal and roti, these men transport riders in 40-degree weather for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Take the best of these men and let them loose on the Tour de France as training for the Olympics. The rolling hills of France on high tech, titanium Schwinn Cycles will be leisurely rides for these rickshawpullers. Who do you think who would have a harder time switching places: Lance Armstrong or the rickshawpuller? My money would be on the rickshawpuller. Our coastal fisherman from Maharashtra to Kerala to Tamil Nadu sail three months of the year in the harshest of monsoon conditions. Brutal rains don’t hamper these rough-and-tough sailors. Take the best of these men and train them for three years and they will be formidable Olympic contenders. I know we have one women’s weightlifting medal, but plenty more medals are available if we reach out among the women working at our construction sites. How many times have we passed a construction site and seen malnourished women lifting pounds of brick and dirt from the ground and onto their head? Watch their motion of lifting and watch the motion of lifting for a weightlifter, it’s exactly the same. Except our construction women don’t put their weights down quickly, they carry them for a while. Tell these women that they can just lift and put down and with proper training they can match the best weightlifters in the world. Ounce for ounce, pound for pound, if you want to see the best athletes in the world, scour the roads of our cities. In the midst of traffic, you will find men pulling and pushing cargo by hand, just like we have done for millennia. It’s pure brute strength that pushes the cargo. Sit down with these men, who we all pass daily, and you will find the lowest bodyfat ratios of any men anywhere. Take the best of them, train them for the field and track events and a champion will emerge. Each year, the best American athletes go to train in Colorado, 5,000 feet above sea level. Colorado is chosen because training at high altitudes makes the lungs stronger. If we take our best and train them in Leh, 14,000 feet above sea level, imagine what supermen and superwomen we may develop. The Indian countryside and cities are replete with future Olympians. These men and women train daily in the harshest of conditions with simple diets. Without a doubt, with the proper training and infrastructure, these men and women will add to our Olympic golds. It’s a shame that the world has missed 100 years of Indian Olympic prowess; it would be a travesty if the world misses another 100 years.