Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Answer to India's Olympics Medal Drought

On the eve of Rio 2016, a BBC‬ writer managed to tie the words "Olympic", "losers" and "India" all in one headline

Cringe worthy? Indian papers say India has it's strongest contingent yet (this includes a 43 year old Leander Paes in the tennis squad!). Critics on the other hand argue ‪that ‎India‬ has a long culture of sublime laziness, kicking athleticism down in the priorities and engaging kids to be studious so they can be doctors or lawyers and a perhaps a better "value" proposition in an arranged marriage. 

Those things aside, in progressive cities like Bangalore, people are "discovering the sports" and a new means of ego-boosting. I doubt the next wave of Indian super-athletes will come from wide waisted middle managers riding expensive carbon fiber bicycles or aunties/uncles running marathons and brandishing their "also ran" medals. It keeps the spirit up but IMO there's little to show performance wise when they compete with athletes from Western countries. 

So what are the options? You can take the current crop of sportstars and keep hammering them to do better. However, there is no substitute to raw talent if you want to beat the best. 

Which is why I maintain this idyllic sense that it's in the cold high mountain states of North India or in poor and isolated foresty villages of Central and South India where people with statistically anomalous genetic potential reside. You would hope that in these parts of the country, teachers, sports coaches and sports governing bodies are keeping ears and eyes open to tap into this potential in a sustainable way, i.e giving new people an opportunity into sports without subjecting them to exploitation.

Ultimately, I think you can, with an outpouring of lots of money, organize fantastic training camps and bring up athletes over a long term to be world champions. But you can't organize training camps without first correctly identifying that golden potential by technically adept coaches.  Its a challenge but it's a big part of the answer to winning more ‪medals. Perhaps there ought to be a serious national hunt for athletes (and even coaches) in the same rigor as we search for beauty pageants, singers and dancers. 

In the following video, Indian coaches compare the Indian runner to the Kenyan runner by going over key physiological attributes required for maximum performance. It's an enlightening discussion on what's missing in Indian athletics by using running as an example.

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