The son of a small-time shopkeeper, Dinesh Kumar often helped his father during his childhood in Rourkela. Zipping around the neighbourhood on a bike, doing odd jobs, he slowly but surely fell in love with cycling. By the time he turned 10, it had become an obsession and is now the calling of his life.
“I don’t know. I have just liked something about cycling, right since I was a kid,” 19-year-old Dinesh said, after winning the Under-21 Time Trial gold medal on Sunday, the first for his state Orissa that is aspiring to become the sports capital of India. “I think I got inspired by an elderly cycling fanatic that I used to see every day. Like him, I too simply pulled out my bike whenever I felt like and went away on long drives. It was so peaceful and energising,” he declared.
Even though he has been creating waves on the national circuit for some time now, Dinesh remains a small-time boy by heart. “How many times will they announce my name?” he winced, as the MJ read out the results for the nth time. Dinesh better gets used to it: as a frequent winner, his name is likely to echo wherever he goes.
The Air Force employee didn’t even realise that he had created a record of sorts in the Khelo India Youth Games already, he has won the first-ever gold medal in cycling, a sport that was making its debut here. “In 2015, I went to Kerala for the national track championships and performed well enough to get selected to enter SAI, Delhi. That’s when my journey in cycling truly began,” he explained, tracing his rise.
Two years later, he was picked up by the Indian Air Force and he has been practicing at the NIAS, Patiala since then. The fourth of five children, Dinesh feels he is a lucky boy. “I come from a family that has never been inclined towards the competitive sport. We just couldn’t afford it. But my father encouraged me after seeing my passion for cycling,” he said.
It was a typical day out for Dinesh on the first day of the cycling competition here on Sunday. Sporting a jersey inspired by the Great Britain cycling team, he produced a flawless performance that would have made Bradley Wiggins proud. It was no mean achievement, though, as the field boasted of 2019 Junior National Time trials (30kms) champion Manish Kumar as well as 40km National silver medallist GT Gagan Reddy.
“It was a good but tough course. It was not easy to maintain speed because of the bends, and also as at places, the road was a bit bumpy. But it didn’t bother me too much,” he said. With a medal in his kitty, Dinesh will be in action in the road race on Monday too, he is also part of the pursuit in the track events.
But his fellow competitors, many of them close friends, are already asking him for the mandatory treat. “Everyone is already asking for a party,” he laughed. “But there are more events, then maybe…”