When Open water swimming was introduced in Beijing Olympics 2008, Amdavadi long-distance swimmer, Sufyan Shaikh knew that the waters of the grandest stage were calling out to him. However, lack of enough monetary support robbed him of his dream to become an Olympian this year. DNA hears him out, listens to his future plans and how he will never give up swimming.
Humble beginnings,lofty dreams
I come from a typical Indian family which has no sports background. Dreaming of participating in the Olympics was out of question when I started swimming. Moreover, I was into long-distance swimming which was never an Olympic sport until it made its debut in Beijing Olympics, 2008. Passion for swimming kept me under the water and I swam English Channel and Strait of Gibraltar among others. When Open water swimming was introduced at Beijing, I told myself that this is the opportunity. I started working on this goal.
In 2007, I swam the Strait of Gibraltar (21.2km) in three hours and 40 minutes. This meant that in 10km (Open water in Beijing) competition, I can consume one hour 48 minutes which was well in time for the Olympic mark. It was then that I realised that becoming an Olympian was not a far-fetched dream for me. I started preparing for London 2012 in 2008. This was the main reason for getting admission in a university in Canada.
No alternative to dail practice
With an eye on London Olympics, I enrolled in Acadia University for advance training in the Open Water swimming – clubbed with education. I was out of bed at 5am, and hit the pool by 6am. Two hours of rigorous exercise and activity in the water was followed by five hours of college education. The post-lunch session, which was around 3pm, was dedicated to physical workout. I used to spend more than two hours daily in the gym which helped my body retain the shape. In other words, my focus was on exercises which strengthened core muscle group of the body. I was in water again in the evening. Two hours of swimming and then dinner. Apart from Sundays, this was my routine.
Lack of exposure did me in
Despite having best of the training and doing well, I wasn’t able to compete in competitions across the world. There were seven competitions and a swimmer was allowed to participate six to prove his worth and qualify for the Olympics. Unfortunately, I was able to participate in only one. It was World Championships held in Shanghai in July 2011. Top-10 swimmers got direct entry to Olympics. Moreover, Shanghai tour also made me understand the professionalism in other countries. Swimmers were accompanied by masseurs, manager and also a physiotherapist.
Forget support staff, I didn’t even have the Indian jersey which would inform organisers that I was representing India.
My throath aches like crazy
Tonsils were creating problem for me. It was hurting while swimming. Consequently, my contact with water reduced in 2012. In June 2012, I had last opportunity to make it to Olympics but tonsils prevented that. It was then I realised my London dreams had crashed.
No financial help when it mattered
I don’t know the exact reason but somehow my sponsors for some reason were not able to provide financial assistance when it mattered. Though I continued my training but wasn’t able to participate competitively. As I said, I could participate only in one event instead of six which would have had given me good exposure. My parents paid for China trip and even today we are in debt. Support from state government is a distant dream.
Rio isn't on my radar
I don’t want to talk about the 2016 Olympics. After looking at the results in London, I will take a call whether I should pursue my dream or change the track. In any case, I am not going to stop swimming. In fact, I am working on yet another long distance project, which not many have attempted.
He held the national 20km walk record, dominating the track and field event for four long years in the last decade. However, Babu Panocha was unfortunate to miss the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and now the London bus. In a heartfelt chat with DNA, the 33-year-old shares his dream of being an Olympian before he hangs up his boots…
Olympics was my dream stage
I had dreamt of becoming an Olympian for the first time after smashing the 20km walk record at the Jamshedpur meet in 2007. However, a freak injury cost me the Beijing Olympics. But I didn’t lose hope and began my preparations once again, and gathered momentum after the Delhi Commonwealth Games, when NIS Patiala became my second home. In 2011, at the Dublin International GP, when I clocked my personal best of 1:23:02, which was better than the London Olympics and World Championships qualifying ‘B’ standard of 1:24:00, I knew I was inching closer to my dream.
No excuses, just twist of fate
I don’t want to give excuses but it was fate, I will say. Most of my practice sessions were held at Patiala, where the climatic conditions are different from Saransk. Had I spent more time at the Sports Authority of India, Bangalore, it could have been a different story. At Bangalore, I practiced for only 20 days before heading to Saransk, Russia for the qualifying round. Saransk is at higher altitude, so I found it a little difficult. However, KT Irfan who had practiced on the roads of Ooty, didn’t find any difficulty and earned the qualifying ‘A’ timing. Moreover, I couldn’t participate in more qualifying competitions such as Saransk.
My mind wasn't at peace
It was certainly a mentally tiring exercise, especially after failing to make it to London. My dreams were shattered and my mind wasn’t at peace. All sorts of negative thoughts were going through my mind. It was so depressing that there were moments when I thought that I had wasted time and money on a sport which has not been appreciated by my own people… That I should have spent more time with my family. However, I am a firm believer of Mataji, and all these negative thoughts were washed out. My belief makes me feel that I am destined to be Olympian and will not give up on this hope.
Norway run spelth end of Olympics run
The first indication was when I missed the Norway sojourn in first week of June. That meant I had only one chance at Saransk. Pressure, tension and bad patches on the route of the 20km walk in the Russian city in July, dashed all hopes. I failed to reach the finish line inside the prescribed time of 1:22:1, which Irfan did and secured the seat to Olympics. It was the worst day of my life.
No sponsors from Gujarat
The general perception is that being Gujarati, there is no dearth of sponsors (for me). But little do most people know that I have received only Rs2 lakh from the state and government so far. After I broke the national record, former secretary of Gujarat State Amateur Athletics Association, the late Ashok Patel worked hard to get my name registered with the state government. They had subsequently promised a Rs2lakh reward in 2009, which was credited to my account in 2011. There is no other financial assistance. If I am representing the country, the federation backs me… But not when we are participating in domestic competitions. So, it is mandatory to stay on the lookout for international assignments.
Gung ho about Rio
Of course, I haven’t given up on my hopes of becoming an Olympian. The first step will be regaining the 20km walk national record which now Gurmeet (Singh) holds. I know age is not on my side, but the 2014 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are certainly on my radar. I am determined to not hang my boots until I earn that tag. I have kick-started my practice with the 2014 Commonwealth Games as the first major target.
She missed going to the London Olympics by a few points – seven points to be precise. However, Vidyanagar-based shooter Lajja Gauswami sounds confident and optimistic about making it to the global event in the future. In a free-wheeling chat with DNA, the ace shooter from Gujarat talks about her past 18 months, which were filled with dreams, hopes and enriching experiences…
Daily practice holds the key
The preparations for the Olympics started 18 months ago, in early 2011, with a series competitions and camps. At the camps, our routine was five hours of shooting at the range which used to start at 8 am. Around 1 pm we had our lunch and a break for a couple of hours before heading back to the field in the evening for physical exercises.
We were supposed to do some running and stretching to maintain our fitness levels. It was a continuous process that went on for months together when we were at such camps. I must tell in the last two years, meeting family members had become privilege. I had not stayed at home for more than 20 days. I was either at camps or shooting at the competitions. But now, I will utilise the time I have and spend it with my family, before making a fresh start.
It was painful to miss the Olympics bus
I felt bad when I didn't qualify for London. But at the same time, I have been taught to remain optimistic. I didn’t allow the failure to affect my routine and future goals. I am just 24 and may be part of at least five Olympics in the future. Moreover, I was told that one septuagenarian competed at the shooting world cup at Munich, Germany for a place in the Olympics, which was really inspiring. Shooting being a more mental game than physical, I can certainly aim for a future shot. There is no point in looking back and thinking of that failure now. I will have to move on with fresh ideas and aims.
London so near, yet so far
It was in Doha at the 12th Asian Championships. I finished 25th to realise my Olympic dreams were shattered. To qualify, I needed to score 581/600 but I managed 574. In fact, women rifle shooters had a very bad time. We didn’t get a quota in the rifle event this time. Even top shooters like Anajali Bhagwat and Tejaswini Sawant missed the target.
Mental and physical balance is crucial
It is very important that a shooter maintains mental and physical balance while at the shooting range. Around 70% shooters hit the bulls-eye only on account of their mental strength. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t fit, in fact, I gave more than 100%. But a lack of experience made the difference. I couldn’t handle the pressure at that crucial juncture. It happens in every athlete’s life as they grow. In addition, the new rifle, which I had ordered and was expected to reach me sometime before the trials, arrived only a few days ago. I do have a rifle but after firing 3 lakh rounds, it has to be changed in order to avoid any complications.
My teammates are my family members
When away from home, my teammates take over as family members. Being ajunior, I get lot of support from the senior shooters. Tejaswini, Sanjiv Rajput and even Gagan Narang have always lent valuable advice whenever I approached them. It is a totally different and enriching experience. I learn a lot of things from them. Maybe these lessons help me in future, even at the Olympics.
You are one your own
I have no sponsors. The Gujarat government did help me with financial assistance of Rs12lakh, which includes Rs5 lakh reward for my Commonwealth Games medal. But now the resources have been exhausted. I am buying a new rifle from the monetary help I received under the state’s Shaktidoot Yojna. NRAI provides assistance only after you are selected for the Indian team or represent the country at any competition. Else, you have to survive on your own merit. One camp away from my hometown costs thousands of rupees. Also 30,000 rounds of ammunition per year cost over Rs1 lakh. However, I am optimistic and confident of overcoming this hurdle as well.