LIFE IN THE LOSERS’ LANE
Medal hopefuls who disappointed pick up the pieces and look ahead
Deepika Kumari, 18, was one of India’s brightest medal prospects in the 2012 London Olympics. Ranked world No. 1 in the individual recurve archery event in June this year, she crashed out in the elimination rounds in London. She has not watched videos of her performance. “I know my mistakes. I don’t need videos to know why I failed,” she says. She is back to a gruelling 10- hour training schedule at the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur, where she wakes up at 6 a. m. in the hostel to train for the World Cup in Tokyo this September. The event is crucial because she has slipped in the women’s recurve rankings after London.
The 2012 Olympics have also taught Kumari how important it is to relax and focus. This is something Abhinav Bindra knows well. Bindra knows the precise moment when the quest for a repeat of his Beijing gold was shattered. It was at noon on July 30, after his 53rd shot. He faltered. It was all downhill from there on. He crashed to 16th place in the 10 metre air rifle. In that split second, four years of eight- hour training days, firing 120 practice shots in Dortmund, Germany, where he trained since 2000, vaporised. Bindra can’t hide the sting of defeat as he sits in his plush three- storied south Delhi bungalow, complete with an elevator and a row of cars in his private garage, including a sleek black BMW 7 Series. “Winning is a combination of hard work and luck,” he says. “There is no formula to gold.” Bindra, 29, withdrew to Germany for a fortnight after his Games disappointment. That was the only break he allowed himself. Now, after a two- day halt in India, he will head to Canada. There’s only a hint that the trip could be for training, when he says the two- week break was
enough. Asked what he plans next, he will only say: “Ask me in six months and I’ll have an answer.”
Not all athletes have taken defeat on their chin. Vijender Singh, 26, India’s middleweight boxing medal hope, has gone underground after losing 13- 17 in the quarter- finals to Uzbek rival Abbos Atoev. Once easily accessible to the media, he now refuses to take calls. He is being treated in a Delhi hospital for a back injury he sustained during a practice session in London. The six- foot- tall Haryana police inspector bagged a bronze in Beijing. Overnight, he was promoted to deputy superintendent of police. He became the poster boy of boxing, walked the ramp for Rohit Bal and ap-
NOT ALL ATHLETES HAVE TAKEN DEFEAT ON THEIR CHIN. VIJENDER SINGH, INDIA’S BOXING MEDAL HOPE, HAS GONE UNDERGROUND.
peared in TV shows like 10 ka Dum and Nach Baliye. The loss in London has devastated him.
“It takes time to get over defeat,” says Jagdish Singh, who has coached Vijender since he was 12. “It’s not easy. Bhaari chot toh lagti hi hai ( It’s always a deep wound),” Vijender was supremely confident of another medal in London. “He could have improved when the score was 3- 3, but he did not play to his strength, which is counter punching,” says his crestfallen coach. “It’s not the end of the world. I still have one more Olympics left in me,” Vijender told the media on August 11.
Krishna Poonia’s seventh spot in the woman discus throw came as a dramatic letdown for her son Lakshya Raj, 11. “I felt bad when mom didn’t win a medal,” says the son. It was a statement loaded with disappointment. Krishna, 34, began her sporting career soon after her son was born. With husband and coach Virendra Poonia, she stayed away from her home in Jaipur for large parts of the year. Lakshya has now adjusted to life without her mother at his paternal grandfather’s home. He visits his parents during vacations. Back from London after her defeat, Krishna told INDIA TODAY that she understands her son’s sentiments. But she still feels sacrificing family life for a sporting career was worth it. In fact, she plans to restart her eight- hour training schedule in London. She was to fly to Stockholm to compete in the DN Galan Diamond League track and field meet on August 17, but skipped it to attend the August 16 reception by the sports ministry in Delhi. Virendra says she will get back to her training regimen for the Rio Games. Her 64.7 metre throw in London equalled the gold medal winning effort of Stephanie Brown Trafton at Beijing, but fell short of Sandra Perkovic’s 69 metres that fetched gold here, while Trafton came eighth. “She’s the first Indian to qualify for an Olympics final in discus,” says her husband. But there’s also a creeping realisation that age may not be on her side— she will be 38 at the Rio Games in 2016.
Krishna speaks of creating a sporting legacy. With her husband, she plans to set up an academy in Jaipur to train girls in athletics. “It’s time to think of giving back to the country,” she says. As for tomorrow, there’s always Rio.
Abhinav Bindra, 29, will restart training
Vijender Singh ( left), 26, wants to fight
Deepika Kumari, 18, is training for the Tokyo World Cup
Krishna Poonia, 34, plans to start an athletics academy
in 81 kg in Rio