The established names excelled expectedly but Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG) also brought to the forefront a bunch of talented kids, whose success was a testimony that unflagging spirit can overcome adversities. The superiority of Youth Olympic gold medallist weightlifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga, CWG silver medalist shooter Mehuli Ghosh and swimmer Srihari Nataraj was beyond doubt but there were a few like Bavleen Kaur and Deepak Singh, for whom the Games was a big window of opportunity. Jammu and Kashmir gymnast Bavleen was star performer for her team, taking home three gold and two silver medals. The 16-year-old had scores of 12.35, 11.25, 13.30 and 11.40 in the ball, ribbon, clubs, and hoop events, respectively.
But Bavleen, who aspires to represent India in the next Commonwealth Games, explains how difficult it is for the gymnasts in her place to even find a suitable training space. “I practice in a government stadium where we have a multipurpose hall for gymnastics and badminton. It actually caters more to the shuttlers. We just have space of one badminton court and everyday 150-200 gymnasts come to practice in that one court. It’s quite tough for us. During summers it’s too hot and in winters it’s too cold. We don’t even have a proper rhythmic floor. We practice on mats. Two weeks back a proper floor was brought but we don’t have a place to keep it. We need our own hall.
Then there is wrestler Deepak, also from Jammu and Kashmir, who struggle to get sparring partners and relies heavily on internet to learn techniques. He did not win any medal but was richer by experience said that “I am from Kathua, and not a single kid in my school or in that area is into wrestling. I can’t practice unless I participate in any tournament. We have traditional wrestling but modern wrestling infrastructure, training and support system does not exist in Jammu and Kashmir. There are no coaches or even mats in our area.
Whatever he has learned, is from coach Sahil Kumar, an army personnel, and by watching videos of Sushil Kumar and Bajrang Punia.
“I learnt the basics of the game from my coach. Then I started watching Sushil Kumar and Bajrang Punia’s bouts on YouTube. I read about training methods and diet and am trying to follow in their footsteps on my own,” Deepak, who competed in U1-7 55kg, said.
In the ever-growing list of shooting talent, one more name was added 10 years old Abhishek Shaw. Named after Beijing Olympics champion Abhinav Bindra, he became the youngest medallist of the Games, teaming up with new shooting sensation Mehuli in the 10m air rifle mixed team event. Shaw, who also became India’s youngest national shooting gold medallist in November last year, proved his mettle and got a measure of competing at a multi-discipline event. However, for Srihari, who has represented India in several international events including the Asian Games and the Youth Olympics, the KIYG marked the beginning of preparations for the World Championship in South Korea later this year. The 18-year-old swimmer had a 100 per cent strike rate as he won seven golds and topped every category he participated in. He bettered his own record of six golds that he won at the Khelo India School Games, last year.
“I came with the aim of winning gold in all my events and I succeeded. I also got a national record so it was a good meet. The competition has improved from last year. Some of my races were pretty close,” Srihari said.
Another success story at the KIYG came in the form of twin brothers from Chandigarh — shooters Udhayveer and Vijayveer Sidhu. While Udhayveer won the boys Under-17 10m air pistol gold, his brother took silver in the Under-21 event. They competed in different age-groups so that they take home two gold medals.
“Both of us motivate each other to do better so both my competition and support system is next to me at home,” Udhayveer said.
The KIYG, government’s flagship programme introduced to revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level had over 6000 athletes participants across 18 individual and team sports including athletics, weightlifting and shooting.