Nicobar’s bicycle diaries
Central government and the state administration to send bicycles to the island to help it get back on its feet. Within a year of the tsunami, around 5,000 bicycles had been dispatched to the island in instalments.
Most young cyclists from Car Nicobar have a tsunami story. Herold was 9 and at home on the day the calamity struck. She had run out into an open field with her mother before they were separated by a gush of water. Miraculously, she spent five days clinging on to a tree, crying all the while, before she was rescued by a search party. She thought she would never see her family again.
Fittingly, it was Herold, now 23, who became the symbol of Andamans’ posttsunami cycling resurgence. From Kakana village in Car Nicobar, she was spotted by Sengupta in a 2009 camp organized by SAI in Port Blair. After officials assessed her performances at the sub-junior nationals in 2012, she was picked for the national camp in Delhi. At the 2013 Asian Championships, held in Delhi, she became the first Indian woman to win a medal in an individual event in the 200m junior sprint.
Herold’s performances were taken as a sign that Andamans cycling was back on track. In 2013, a team of CFI (Cycling Federation of India) and SAI officials took a chopper to Car Nicobar for a random talent-spotting exercise. The trip was arranged at the insistence of Kumar. Out of approximately 250 children, nine were chosen to train in Delhi.
Since then, Herold has achieved a series of firsts, including becoming India’s first individual cyclist to qualify for the World Track Cycling Championships (for the 2016 London edition). However, after that, there has been a spate of lacklustre performances, the latest being at the recently concluded Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Onkar Singh, secretary general of the CFI, insists that Indian track cycling will come into its own at the elite level in a couple of years. “We shouldn’t be worrying about current performances at the elite level. Our real strength are the juniors. They are the beneficiaries of the programme we have put in place in the last five-six years. Esow’s medal in Switzerland is the best example. As our juniors progress to elite level over the next few years, we will start seeing results. For now, Deborah is focused on qualification for Tokyo 2020.”
If indeed Herold qualifies for the Tokyo Olympics, she will be the first Indian cyclist to do so since the last time the Games were held in the Japanese capital—in 1964. Her younger brother Apollonius, 19, is also part of the national camp. “Achcha lagta hai, equipment yahaan ka bahut achcha hai ( I like it here, the equipment is very good),” he says when asked about his experience in Delhi. “From five cycles in 2012, we now have about 80-90 of them, each costing between ₹ 2-10 lakh,” says Singh. “We also have 10 stationary Watt bikes, which measure power output and evaluate pedalling technique.”
It is unsurprising that equipment is what comes to Apollonius’ mind when asked about his life in Delhi. Cycling is an expensive sport, and the man-machine equation is vital to success. Compared to the four weather-beaten Colnago bikes that have been plying the Port Blair velodrome track since 2005, Delhi might seem like an embarrassment of riches to a young cyclist from the islands. While the success of Herold and Alban at the international level may