Sixty one years is a long time, yet in these sixty one years, India could not produce a single world class gymnast, except perhaps with the recent exception of Ashish Kumar. Why so and why sixty one years ? Sixty one years because the Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) was formed in 1951 with the objective of encouraging, promoting, controlling and popularising competitive gymnastics in India. The Indian Olympic Association gave its affiliation to GFI in 1952. India, being the second most populated country and the seventh largest country in the world, GFI is an important unit of the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG), Common Wealth Gymnastics Confederation (CGC) and Asian Games Union (AGU). It isn’t that India has not been represented at the international level in gymnastics. The GFI sent two gymnasts, Khushi Ram and Veer Singh to represent India in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics Games. The number of gymnasts increased to three in the 1956 MelbourneOlympics viz. Pritam Singh, Sham Lal and Anant Ram. In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics the number increased to six, namely Anant Ram, Bandu Bhosle, Jagmal Kore, Vithal Karande, Trilok Singh and Darshan Monda. But the numbers are irrelevant. What is relevant is that right uptill the recent 2012 London Olympics, no Indian gymnast has won an Olympic medal so far.
The story of Ashish Kumar started on a very promising note in the history of Indian Gymnastics. Ashish Kumar won two medals in the 2010 Common Wealth Games (CWG) held in Delhi, and also became the only Indian to win medals (1 silver and 1 bronze) for India in gymnastics at the international Level. He also won a bronze medal at the 2010 Asian Games held in Guangzhou, China. At the 2011 South Central Asian Gymnastics Championships in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Kumar also won four gold medals. By far, he is the most successful gymnast India has ever produced. He was also awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2011. But that’s where his success story turns sad : he was unable to participate in the 2012 London Olympics when he failed to qualify in the competition only by a short margin. The required cut-off mark for the Olympics was 80 per cent and he scored 79.3 per cent in the qualifiers for the 2012 London Olympics. When he was asked he said that “the margin was very slight, which hurts the most. I was pretty positive about making it but things didn’t work out my way. The problem was that my training which I was following was pretty unscientific, which left me fatigued; when I participated in the qualifiers I was in bad shape.”
Ashish was also promised by the GFI that it would provide him with a wild card for participating in the Olympics. But unfortunately it didn’t happen. Many feel that if the Federation would have pushed his name earlier, Ashish could have participated in the competition. Moreover the then Chief Coach of Ashish, Vladmir Chertkov from Russia also had many spats with the GFI. Instead of applauding Vladmir for his support to Ashish which enabled the latter to register noteworthy feats, he was neglected by the GFI. The President of GFI sarcastically asked Vladmir, after the 2010 Asian Games “that was all he (Ashish) could deliver, a bronze ?” According to statistics it was India’s first ever medal in Gymnastics at the Asian Games. Prior to this too, he was not allowed to march with the Indian contingent in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
The fact remains that Ashish and India bagged the first ever medals in the history of CWG under Vladmir Chertkov’s coaching. Vladmir said that Ashish could have won the gold medal in the 2010 CWG if his preparation would have been much better. Vladmir further said that he was shocked after seeing the 1990 model of gymnastics equipments provided for training it was not sufficient for any gymnasts to compete in at international level. Ashish could have utilised the most from the home advantage, but he failed due to lack of adequate facilities. Vladmir added that, “India needs a professional Federation. The GFI just does not have any knowledge of the sport. It is a useless organisation. It is only composed of bureaucrats who do not understand the sport of gymnastics or the scope of what was accomplished.”
Although gymnastics has never been more than a fringe sport in India, in recent times some hard-working youngsters are trying to change the picture. They are Ashish Kumar, Partha Mondal, Rakesh Kumar and Deepa Karmakar. Apart from Ashish, Deepa Karmakar achieved 29thrank in the world after the 2010 World Championships at Doha. She was also declared the best woman gymnast of India in 2011 along with Ashish Kumar in the men’s category. She also bagged five Gold Medals in the 2011 National Games held in Jharkhand.
But all the medals and achievements listed above are not sufficient for such a big nation. It is very hard to believe that after the introduction of gymnastics in 1951-52 India has achieved so little comparatively. If we compare ourselves with China then, China won 4 Gold Medals, 3 Silver Medals and 1 Bronze Medals in gymnastics at the 2012 London Olympics, but we were unable to even qualify for the Olympics. Why is it thatIndia is lagging so far behind in gymnastics? Funding, training, equipment, infrastructure, opportunities, motivation and all other related factors must be studied in depth and solutions found if India wants to turn gymnastics from being a fringe sport to a prime sport.