Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


Nurturing Youth Olympic medal dreams in the Nilgiris

Nurturing Youth Olympic medal dreams in the Nilgiris

Sohinee Basu

Published: 9 Sep 2018 5:15 AM GMT
Serenaded by teeming coffee plantations on either side the path dips and rises ever so gently as you curve your way through the quaint Nilgiri Hills. Tucked away amidst the blue mist that hangs like a curtain over Southern ranges is talent echoing in the air of the place. The curtain shied away as a 16-year old, Sreekiran Nandakumar scripted history as he darted across in the 800m race to clock a personal best of 1:50:93 at the recently concluded Youth Olympics Games qualification meet held in Bangkok bypassing the Asian junior champion Anu Kumar's record. This rave feat by the Connoor-resident shot him into instant fame and gave him a well earned ticked for the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics that will begin on 6 October in the capital city of Argentina. In the winter-clad month of January 2017, a Sports meet at St. Josephs Boys' Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School was where everything began. Mohammed Azarudeen, a young aspiring coach with a set determination in his heart to let the Nilgiris receive accolades got his attention drawn to a 15-year-old boy in the Sports Meet, who turned out to become the first ever athlete from the Nilgiris to qualify for the Summer Youth Olympics under the guidance of Azarudeen who became his coach. In an exclusive interview with
The Bridge
, Azarudeen revealed that Sreekiran didn't quite have an idea about the world scene of athletics. Wishing to nurture and improve Sreekiran's potential, Azarudeen recognised him as a "born runner" and took him under his wing. "I approached him. I told him the basic necessity of sports. I told him that if you train well you can achieve a lot more in the future," Sreekiran's young mind immediately piqued interest upon hearing all this. Azarudeen offered to show him the "practical" side of it and asked him to come along if he wanted to. What began then was the first step towards launching on a dream run.
Guarded by the blue-tinged hills, the high altitude acted as a boon to the budding Sreekiran who was initiated into running when he was in the 8th standard. Being an athlete from Ooty, Azarudeen is a three-time State and National Champion. From his early days as a professional in athletics, he knew the secret to being successful in this stamina-demanding sport stems from the lush green backdrop of the hills, and it's fresh air. "We are 2200 m above the sea level. There is good oxygen here and no pollution. Each child is born special over here. Sreekiran is just an example," says Azarudeen. While the Nilgiris are revelling in the happiness of having one of their own as a top contender in the Summer Youth Olympics at just 16, there are more significant issues at hand. Azarudeen highlights how the hills have lots of potentials that sublimates into the mountain air.
"There is so much talent here. There can be many international athletes from here. But sadly, we don't get any exposure here. There is no awareness,"
the 24-year old confesses "Athletics is the mother of all sports. If you are good at athletics, you can be good at every other sport," firmly believes Azarudeen. The alarming factor is that in India, sports like athletics are secluded for a very rare and countable mass and hence do not attract too many sponsors or the funds. In a country which breathes cricket and chants the name of a Dhoni or a Kohli and is well versed with football, athletics do not even draw up in the picture.
The talent that lurks in the hidden and remote corners of the State remain shrouded behind the pale fog as it does in the Nilgiris.
The curtain flutters in the wind and stirs often, but few can muster the strength to unveil the raw potential. Azarudeen understands the dire state of his sport and wishes to create more awareness. "There are many others like Sreekiran. Sreekiran is like an instrument for me. He is just an example with which I can show that the Nilgiris have talent. He has done me very proud," gushes an emotional and passionate Azarudeen. Sreekiran Nandakumar, who is now away at Delhi in a training camp for the Youth Olympics nurses the same dreams.
With extremely supportive parents, the 16-year-old boy's sporting career would have died an untimely death had his mother not undergone hardships to see him prosper or the school alumni not chipped in to fund his career.
"With sponsorships we can do wonders.", believes his coach who is resolute on tearing apart the curtain that hides so much of talent and obstructs the way to achieving national glory. "Once you feel it in the training, all the hardships, the financial background of your family when you see all of it that makes you motivate yourself further. Then you'll start doing wonders. Once you do that you can approach people for sponsorship's show them that you have enough talent! I need a bridge to achieve success. You need to build your bridge."
But being a sportsman doesn't come easy, and there are a lot of things to take into account especially when you are at a tender age like the 16-year old Sreekiran's. Realisations have to come early, "You have to sacrifice. That mentality should be there in you. " recommends Azarudeen. However Azarudeen's career as an athlete was short-lived as he had to succumb to financial strains and battle off a severe knee injury and gave up his athletic career. After becoming a B.Com graduate from Coimbatore, Azarudeen was determined to "not join an IT company and sit behind a computer and go tap-tap-tap. " Wanting to materialise his passion for sports, the stars realigned themselves for his sake when he got the chance to work with Kunhi Mohammed who was the chief coach of army man and star sprinter Jinson Johnson.
Azarudeen got the chance to work with Kunhi Mohammed who was the chief coach of army man and star sprinter Jinson Johnson. "The 400m team had a tour for training in France, and Kunhi Sir was busy there and could not concentrate on Jinson, who was in Ooty then. Jinson was left alone here. That is the time I had a conversation with Kunhi Sir and told him that I would take care of Jinson." "We shared our knowledge. This is how I got my first break.I learnt the best things from Kunhi Sir and implemented them. I became the assistant coach for an elite athlete like Jinson and also got to learn a lot from him. This was the turning point in my life,"
says Azarudeen. At that time, he chanced upon noticing Sreekiran and thus began a symbiotic relationship between the duo. Talking about his young and bright pupil, Azarudeen lauds the 16-year old for being ever so disciplined as he aced the battery tests and proved his fitness and after three months of training, he went on to secure a gold medal in the State Championships! Even after qualifying for the Youth Olympics, Sreekiran hasn't let his feet leave the ground or get carried away. " After getting a medal from the podium, Sreekiran thinks 'What's next?'. He takes it one competition at a time. He is working a lot to reduce his time,"
points out his coach.
Also read: Rohith Maradappa – An Indian rower hoping to make a change in India’s sports circuit
Reducing his time (of the personal best) by just 2 seconds will make him a sure shot contender for a medal at the Youth Olympics. However, 2 seconds is a lot to ask for on the track. The promising athlete still has plenty of time to prepare with his coach Mohamed Azarudeen. Sreekiran will strive to win back a gold medal from the Youth Olympics, a feat which no Indian has accomplished in the past since the inauguration of the event in 2010. In 2010, Arjun and Kumar Durgesh had bagged silver medals in Boys' Discus throw and Boys' 400m hurdles, respectively. However, the Indians were unable to bring home any medal in athletics in the next edition of the Youth Olympics which took place in Nanjing, China in 2014. For many more such Sreekiran's to come into the limelight, awareness needs to be created. There are so many factors that connive in creating an athlete. Having just the talent doesn't work out in the international sphere, and heavy reliance falls on sponsorships and publicity to safeguard and vouch for the athlete. With Tamil Nadu already shining in senior athletics, there is so much potential and hope at the junior stage as well. Azarudeen, with Sreekiran's example, hopes to attract more such enthusiasts of the sport. He professes that he loves to educate people about the necessity of sports. At just 24, Azarudeen has set a mission for himself to bring the Nilgiris into glory and his case stands firm in the spirit of Sreekiran's significant achievement.
Next Story