From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.26 :: Jun. 27, 2009

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GYMNASTICS / FEATURE

‘India has the potential’

The American gymnast of Indian origin, Raj Bhavsar, is of the view that there is no reason why India cannot be a force in gymnastics. By Y.B. Sarangi.

The future appears bleak when one takes a look at Indian gymnastics. Then, out of nowhere, a ray of hope emerges. You are bound to develop some optimism when you listen to somebody like Raj Bhavsar, an Olympic bronze medallist gymnast from the USA. The 28-year-old, who is proud of his Indian roots, strongly feels that there is no reason why India cannot emerge as a force in gymnastics.

He puts forth a case study to substantiate his point. “The level is low now (in India) and the level is low in many other countries. And countries have made improvement. For a long time, the US was not the best but with right focus and right training now it is considered as a powerhouse in gymnastics.

“I feel the same for India. The will is there, the potential is there. I saw a lot of Indian gymnasts and am very excited to see their potential,” says Bhavsar.

That is precisely the reason why Bhavsar is in India — to motivate the country of his ancestors to achieve greater heights in one of the most attractive and popular sports in the world.

“My goal of coming here is to do something for the country of my origin. After achieving something like an Olympic medal, I could not forget that a big part of me is Indian-American. I would like to share my experience and my story with the country of my ancestors, especially with the Indian gymnasts,” said Bhavsar in New Delhi during a recent visit to the country.

Then he sets aside a huge myth that Indians are not fit enough to make their mark in gymnastics. “I always take it as a myth. I am kind of a living proof. In general, in athletics, given the right opportunities Indians can compete at the highest level.”

Bhavsar has travelled a few places, talked to people concerned and met some gymnasts to know how he can contribute in lifting Indian gymnastics to a respectable level. And he is pleased with what he has experienced so far. Especially, he is upbeat after visiting the National Sports Academy in Allahabad, run by former national champion Dr. U. K. Mishra.

“I am very positive. I met the Indian gymnastics team and Dr. Mishra. The facilities are better than I had expected. There are lots of equipment, there are lots of high level gymnasts. I would now hope that Indian gymnasts can compete at the international level,” Bhavsar observes.

Has he any plan in mind to uplift Indian gymnastics?

Bhavsar believes the work has to start from the grass-root level even though nothing concrete has been put in place officially. He will be in contact with some key people in India to formulate any strategy in future.

Russian-American Vladimir Chertkov has been roped in as the coach of the Indian side and Bhavsar is glad for that. Still, he sees a role for him.

“The way I kind of fit in is when they need me I will be more than glad. Any help from any area, technical capabilities, mental coaching, improvement in infrastructure, I can contribute,” he says.

Bhavsar refrains from making tall claims that Indian gymnastics will reach dizzy heights in no time. But he is hopeful that the overall performance of the country will improve in next year’s Commonwealth Games and India will get “at least 15 medals” in the 2012 London Olympics.

At this point, the mention of Beijing gold medallist, shooter Abhinav Bindra, lights up Bhavsar’s eyes.

“What he has done for India is significant. For many, India actually has an athlete who can win a gold medal and it makes the younger generation think that if one man can do it this time, somebody else can do it at other time,” he says.

On the personal front, Bhavsar enjoys the fact that with his success he has emerged as a cult figure among the Indians in his homeland. The son of a Gujarati couple settled in the USA for nearly four decades, he is the second Indo-American gymnast after Mohini Bhardwaj to have won an Olympic medal.

“In the USA there is a lot of pressure on Indian kids to focus on education and education only. I am someone who did my education and athletics. (I am) proud to be an inspiration for Indian kids in the USA,” says the gymnast, who recently added a World Cup silver medal to his kitty.

One of Bhavsar’s patented routine on the parallel bars is expected to be named after him by the sport’s world governing body and even his parents would not have thought that once the “active kid, a crazy monkey” of their household would bring them so much of fame.

Now, after achieving something worthwhile at the top level, Bhavsar is keen to let the world know his story through a book and draw some inspiration from his life.

“I want to do a very good job. I would love to give my story out there to the world and convey to them how important it is to never give up,” he signs off.



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