Hyderabad: Recently-retired Indian athletics legend Bahadur Singh, who served as an athlete for over two decades with multiple medals at Asian Games and as chief athletics coach later for over 25 years, said the only way to make India a powerhouse in track and field is through providing facilities in villages across the country.
The 74-year-old, whose tenure as chief athletics coach began in 1995, retired from his post recently. Speaking exclusively to Telangana Today, the Arjuna, Dronacharya and Padma Shri awardee, feels lack of basic facilities in rural areas is the major hindrance for India’s growth. Sighting the example of Hima Das, who comes from a village in Assam, the veteran says there are more athletes like Hima Das waiting to be unearthed. “There are many girls and boys with immense talent in villages across India but there are no basic facilities. The same was the case with PT Usha then and Neeraj Chopra now.”
“Look at China and their system. Every kid there goes to school in track suit. They invariably have four hours of physical activity daily. They are provided with breakfast and lunch in school itself. Focus should be on physical well-being of our kids. If we want to be compared to China or to beat them, we must follow such programmes. There is no dearth of money in the country but we need to know where to put it. All schools must be provided with sporting facilities,” he adds.
Bahadur Singh, the 1980 Moscow Olympic shot putter, won back-to-back gold medals in Asian Games in Bangkok in 1978, New Delhi in 1982 and won silver in 1974 in Tehran. He also won medals in four Asian Track and Field meets held in Marikina with a bronze in 1973, gold in Seoul (1975), bronze in Tokyo (1979) and silver in Tokyo (1981).
As a coach, Bahadur Singh played a key role in improving India’s position over the years. Reminiscing about his earlier days as coach, he reveals, “I didn’t want to become a coach since I was an active athlete then and had a good job with Tata company. But Dr Lalit K Banot convinced me to become coach. I joined in 1991 as a coach and had junior and under-21 teams. India had a very poor Asian Games in 1994 in Hiroshima where we won only two bronze and one silver. He told me to take over as the chief coach in 1995.”
About the struggle as coach, he adds, “There was no money to compete in tournaments abroad. We had to fight for it. But Mr Banot managed to arrange money for a few tournaments in 1997 and 1998 Asian Games where we won 15 medals. There were no medals in Commonwealth Games since 1974. We went on to win 12 in 2010 in the Commonwealth Games. And in the last Asia Games in 2018 in Jakarta, we won 20 track and field medals,” he said with a sense of pride.
Firm take on Khelo India
The veteran is also of the opinion that there is no need for tournaments like Khelo India where so much money is being wasted. “There are so many tournaments at school, college, university and junior level. That money from Khelo India should be spent on developing facilities in villages. Khelo India means the whole country should participate in it, not just cities or towns.”
He also said that India is on the rise in track and field events and are close to winning an Olympic medal. “Neeraj Chopra didn’t qualify for Olympics last time but he participated in Junior World Championship and threw over 86 metres and Olympic medal winning distance was 85 metres that year. So the standard is there. We have every chance of winning a medal in the Olympics in javelin and shot put.”
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