We call him Don. He is 37 years old. He holds a day time job in a local factory here in Navi Mumbai, a job that keeps him on his feet through the day. Don is a Chemical Engineer by training. He is married and has two kids.
Don is not a full time athlete. He is a full time employee of a chemical company, he is also a full time father and a full time son. he cooks for his ailing parents who he takes care of. he is extremely fond of his kids. And he is passionate about running, he is actually a driven man when it comes to running.
Don does not come from a very affluent background. he has to be careful how each rupee is spent. The luxury of not wearing a pair of shoes more than once a week is something he can ill afford, the luxury of a cold whey protein shake after a run, even less so. he does not have a sponsor to support him, he has to take care of everything himself.
Now that you have the background, allow me to connect a few dots for you so that you get the perspective. The Indian runner, Ram Singh Yadav, ran the marathon at London 2012 in 2:30, whereas the last finisher 21 year old Tshepo Ramonene of Lesotho, who was 85th in the field of 100, covered the distance in 2:55. media reports tell me that the maximum temperature was 22 degrees celsius on the day of the marathon, the minimum was 18. The marathon was run on the roads of London with the route being kept free of any traffic during the race.
Now, consider this. My friend Dhyaneswar Tidke, ran the Pune Marathon last year in 2:53, that is 2 minutes better than the last finisher at London Olympics. Wow I say. That day in Pune was much much hotter, the start was late, the roads were open to traffic when it mattered the most. He had to run through traffic and pollution was horrible. I know because I was in Pune that day, trying to get back to Mumbai.
When you contrast Don’s performance with the marathoners who took part in london, does it leave you speechless like it left me? Don’ coach, Savio, who I salute, tells me that Don is good for a 2: 40 finish in Mumbai conditions, so you can imagine what he could have done in London. That’s not all. Don is north of 37 years. I dont know how many of the marathoners in London were as old as Don or have to find time to run after their daily chores and with no sponsors to support them.
So, when we look at the 6 medals that India got this year, and crib about how a country of a billion people can do so poorly, as yourself what you are doing for your own fitness. Ask yourself, as my friend Ram V says, whether you spent any time at all watching any part of the Olympics. If each one of us invests in some form of activity to promote our own physical fitness, we will see a gradual raising of the standards in the country in every sphere. If Don can do this at 37, imagine what he could have done with better training when he was 27.
I went to a school where very little attention was paid to sports. Today, we live in flats in apartment blocks where there is no open space, the builders have eaten it all up. Many of us grew up playing outside on the roads, in parks and gardens. Do your kids do so? Or are they spending too much time watching tv? If we do not value physical activity, if we do not value fitness, the country can do no better. Start by setting an example. Like Amitabh Sankranti whose son, Sasha accompanies his dad to run 1 km yesterday but ended up running 3 km and feeling mighty pleased about it. Sasha told me that nobody in his school could have run even 100 m, what does that say about the fitness level of the next generation?
My colleague Balu’s daughter who has trained herself to become a swimmer with great promise for her age, has eased up on swimming because of the pressure on her in school. In the new school that she has moved to, there is no sports culture, my colleague tells me. My sisters daughter in Delhi is in a similar situation. Her coach sees a lot of hope but the huge pressure of school is taking its toll on her, so if the parents have to make a choice, is it not obvious what choice they will make? The only chap I know who is investing in his kid’s athletic capabilities is Ranjan Kamath.
It is up to the parents to fix this problem, by engaging with the schools right away (before the Olymics hangover lifts) so that kids have the space to do what it takes. Let them not turn 37 when you see them outshing everyone and leaving you wondering, what if…..
That is what i would call a crying shame. Which would leave us crying at Rio.