Shooting Stars

Preeja at the finish

That evening as I settled down to watch the first day of athletics events on television, two young Indian girls stepped on to the tracks. The 60,000 strong crowd of mostly Chinese roared for the local favorites as the women set off in quest of the 10,000 m gold.

The tiny looking Indian girls gamely held on to the leading bunch lap after lap giving  a glimmer of hope. The two athletes - Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut - were not the favorites to win. Kavita had won a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in the same event while Preeja disappointed. As the track official sounded the bell for the last lap, the Indian girls took off, as if from a sling shot, leaving others in their wake. Never before had I seen anything like this.

The girls made it look so easy from distance. Preeja and Kavita, who finished first and second, even jogged a victory lap.

While Indian fans ( I don’t even know if there are many) lap up the achievements of the Indian women, what many may not know is that both these athletes had won a bigger battle to get to the Asian Games arena. Both of them had to beat poverty and its associated hurdles to win laurels for our country.

Preeja's father died when she was very young and her older brother dropped out of school to become a carpenter's apprentice. Her mother worked in neighbors’ homes to feed the family. Preeja caught the eye of her athletics coach while in school in Kerala's Idukki district. Due to her athletic prowess, she got help to finish her degree and a job with the Railways followed.
With the Rs10 lakhs won by Preeja at the Chennai marathon in 2008, the family has bought a small plot of land in Palghat where they are building a house.

Kavita's story is no different.

She belongs to a poor family in the adivasi belt of Trimapkeswar near Nasik. She has four brothers and says she chose running as it could be done barefooted and without spending any money. Kavita is now employed with Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

I was waiting anxiously for their return to the tracks for the 5000 m race today. Preeja looked confident. She was the smallest of the lot and the least assuming. It was charm to see her in sprint. There was a rare grace in her movements. She appeared an angel on  wings.

The close-up shots showed a very different and distressing part of the competition. It is not an easy game. The amount of stress, effort,fear and anxiety on their faces brought tears to my eyes. They put every iota of energy left in them in to their feet. I was relieved when I saw Preeja winning the race. Kavita won the bronze.
And just a short while after this, our girls won the 400 m relay race as well.

When time permits try to have a look at the finishing moments of an athletics sprint . You will find all emotions possible on those faces. It is simply not easy at all. I wouldn’t dare to compare it with any other event.
It is a reward less field with not much of accolades or glory. And for that matter, not even money or stardom. They don’t get invited to the parties of film stars or politicians, and are soon forgotten.

Cricket is the national obsession in India. Its stars dominate the headlines and devour almost all the sponsorship deals. All other games and sports are submerged under this game, if you can call it so. Historically, the government offered little help to the athletes, and corporations were reluctant to sponsor those who competed in obscure sports. This reality lead many athletes to a common destination: jobs with the Indian railway or police. Most of the women athletes finally settle down with any ordinary job to make their livelihood. It is not surprising that we do not produce as many men athletes as women.

India, which ranks behind only China in population with more than 1.1 billion people, could never get a gold medal in Olympics, till Bindra won it at the air rifle shooting competition at the Beijing Olympics.

Preeja Sreedharan with the gold medal

This prompts an ever-persistent question. Why do we continually fail to produce elite athletes on the international stage? We are getting recognition as a growing economy. But is that just enough?


  1. 1. Ours is a mindset of recognizing achievement only if its in academics. Sports is not considered as a main stream goal/profession unless its cricket. We know why!

    2. As you said, these people are forgotten and we as a nation mourn if India loses in a game of cricket.

    If the government can help promote other sports, it would do wonders. We have been reading the pathetic facilities provided to other sportsmen right? Those who do get some teeny-weeny fame and get into spotlight jump into Bollywood!

  2. @Doc! Thank you for the beautiful story. I might have never come across this news over CNN or NPR - my two main news sources here.

    I guess it is time for local fans and businesses to encourage growing athelets and provide moral and financial support rather than looking at the Govt to do something. I feel that is the huge difference between India and America.

    Local parents volunteers to coach, other parents gather to cheer the teams, buy them snacks, brings then pizza, local businesses sponsor uniforms and thus grows the patriotism and team spirit - from the very low level up... This is my observation of United States.

    In India hardly any one volunteers, we blame the schools, boards and ultimately the government - not doing the very least we could do - to get involved!

    May be if we all put out hearts and minds to bring change, we can... Shall we?!

  3. Doc, do you recall the incident a couple of years back when the Kerala football team for the Santhosh trophy final leg had to travel in an unreserved compartment of the Kerala Express , packed like sardines?

    Cricketers are a lucky lot , because the game was marketed well.Until the 80's even Wimbledon was faltering as a
    tournament, but marketing wisdom did a miracle.

    We can soon see the F!@#$%*!* ministers of the Kerala Government proclaiming at the public reception for these girls that the Government was the key to their success.

  4. Answering your questions will lead to - you know what we have been chewing over and over here in the blogworld! I can't help repeating it, sorry.

    All I would is to add one point - that of Kavitha Raut. I personally know several indigenous community members who are highly skilled in archery, long distance walking etc. They excel in it because it is in their genes and they need it for their survival. Those of us who rage at the White invaders of Americas who annihilated the native peoples, should take a look at ourselves as we continue to exterminate the native population of India.

    If Kavitha Raut won a medal, please be aware that you and I and most of the rest of our countrymen like Suresh Kalmadi and Gill had nothing to do with it. It is her personal achievement and nothing else. Let no 'Indian' go ga-ga over a tribal's medal. The tribals are not us Indians. Kavita's land must be lying submerged for the development of Gujarat State and her relatives branded as Maoists.

    Remember the Black Power Salute? 1968 Olympics? Thats what Kavita Raut should have done!

  5. very informative and at the same time very encouraging win for these girls....Indians should look beyond cricket and come up with some international sport!

  6. This is very interesting, I liked the story. It is sad that most athletes are not recognized. Maybe things will change for your country, hope so. Maybe it takes more people from your country to write about this problem. I loved that winning smile, it is worth a million words. Thank you for the birthday wish, have a nice week.

  7. if instead of wasting time on things that are superficial we put our money into good use, like training sports people...from different sports not just cricket, we'd b full of champions..Nice post Dr. Antony :)

  8. Very informative n interesting ...thanx for sharing Doc..:)
    Tasty Appetite

  9. High time we threw cricket out, and look at some other deserving sports people.

  10. Olá meu caro amigo, eu gostaria de agradecer de coração o seu comentário em meu blog. Não tenho certeza, mas você me parece ser dos Emirados Árabes Unidos. Confesso que fiquei um pouco surpreso com a sua visita, pois você é de um país tão distante do meu. Gostei muito do seu blog e dos seus textos. És muito famoso! Existem muitos comentários em seu blog.
    Meus parabéns, e volte sempre!

  11. I think, this Asiad threw up some wonderful stories of grit and determination. I followed the Asian Games keenly and was heartened to see men and women from small towns overcome adversity to come up to podium finishes. My heart says -- wait for a few years -- India will be doing well on the world stage in sports. I see a lot of hope!

  12. Dr Antony,

    That is really nice story. I also watched some of these games.

  13. The fund managers of sports organizations and bodies are so busy counting notes and stashing black money away in shady deals and Swiss banks that our bare footed athletes have to be the best even to draw their side glance. These girls deserve to be congratulated not only for winning madals but for striving against all odds.


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