The young weightlifting stars from the East have been the toast of their sport thus far at the first Khelo India School Games. The first day of the weightlifting contest at these Games saw four hugely talented young weightlifters from the eastern part of India – Assam, West Bengal, Manipur and Odisha. These are most likely the stars of the future who could bring laurels to India.
All four hail from modest backgrounds. But they can now look forward to a better future in terms of their sport and training as the institutions they are attached to will be able to help them from the funds earmarked for talented youngsters through the Khelo India School Games.
On the first day of the weightlifting competition at the Indira Gandhi Stadium, 15-year-old Bhaktaram Desti of Odisha and Tamil Nadu’s C Dinesh, 16, were on the same podium after battling it out in the boys’ 50kg class. Desti edged out Dinesh for the gold medal despite the two achieving the same aggregate score of 176 kg after their best snatch and clean & jerk attempts. The Odisha boy was adjudged the winner because of his entry in the competition with a higher weight.
Desti, studying in 10th standard in a state government school, hails from the Ganjam district in Odisha. It is far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. Desti’s farmer parents eke out a living off the land, while upholding their tribal ancestry proudly. His coach, Sita Jena narrates the story of Dasti’s desire to excel, “There are very few opportunities for people coming from that part of the country. But he manages to balance his studies and training because the sports hostel and the government school where he studies to are close by.”
In contrast, Dinesh was surrounded by a team of coaches who part of the Tamil Nadu team. His father, K. Chellamariappan, a former national champion in weightlifting and the head coach of Tamil Nadu, is his main coach. He also gets additional training from senior coaches like C. Paneerselvam. “I feel very happy and proud about my performance here. Before this, I finished third at the SGFI Youth Nationals a couple of months ago,” said the student of ICF Silver Jubilee Matriculation Higher Secondary School.
Fourteen-year-old Subhash Lahre, hailing from Chhattisgarh’s capital city, Raipur, is being mentored by three-time national champion Rustam Sarang. The Mahavir Higher Secondary School said: “I have been training for the last three years, and although there aren’t many facilities to train there, my coach has ensured we train every day.”
“His father is a scrap dealer, while his mother works in a shop,” revealed Sarang after the medal ceremony. Sarang, a former Commonwealth champion, and stood seventh in the 62 kg class at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, takes pride in the fact that he is taking weightlifting to the grassroots through his own academy.
“I have set up this academy to facilitate training and inspire the future generation of athletes,” Sarang said. “I already have 42 kids training under me and I have put in whatever money that was needed out of my own pocket.”
Commonwealth and Asian youth champion Konsam Ormila Devi of Manipur, who picked up a gold medal in the girls’ 44kg contest has been torn between having to compete at the highest levels in the junior category while worrying about her mother who is a vegetable vendor and an ailing father back home in Khongjam, just outside of Imphal.
Winner in the girls’ 48kg class, West Bengal’s Shrabani Das had to give up school last year because she was picked for a camp meant for the Indian team, but she intends to return to school once the pressure of competitions eases. She has a gym at home where she trains under the watchful eyes of coach Pralay Baug. “We don’t have enough equipment to train at her home, but we make do with what we have right now. She is my senior-most student; everybody else are still very young. I work part-time otherwise,” Baug said proudly of his 15-year-old Howrah-based student.
Junior athletes from different walks of life have come together at the inaugural Khelo India School Games. Some are ecstatic to share the podium with familiar faces. Sidhanta Gogoi of Assam picked up gold in the boys’ 56kg class on day one. He shared the podium with fellow schoolmates Zakhuma (silver) and Markio Tario (bronze), both representing Maharashtra. All three study in the same Boys Sports Company School in Pune.
“I never realised how big the Khelo India School Games is,” said Gogoi. “I got so excited that I was a bit nervous as well. I just wanted to do well here. I’ve worked very hard for the last two and a half years, and I’m thankful to all the coaches and my parents.”