A CHILDHOOD DREAM AND THE LIFE IT GAVE

Catherine Stefanutti; occasion: completion of swim from Jersey to France (Photo: courtesy Catherine)

This is an article by invitation. Catherine Stefanutti is a South African swimmer based in England. An experienced Channel swimmer, she was a valuable late entrant to Team HOPE, the group of swimmers from Mumbai who successfully crossed the English Channel in relay format in July 2019. Here Catherine writes about how her love for open water swimming started, her journey to date in the field and suggestions she has for those planning to attempt the English Channel.

It was more than four decades ago that my coach in South Africa showed his squad of swimmers a newspaper article about somebody who had just swum the English Channel. I was then 12 years old. I instinctively told him that one day, I too would achieve the crossing. Growing up in South Africa, there was a lot of focus on sport within schools. There was a strong competitive environment between schools and good opportunities to participate at a reasonably high level. Born into a family of swimmers, I was a reasonably good swimmer and did swim competitively in my youth. I did well in competitions although not at the level of my siblings. My brother Andy for instance, swam for South Africa.

Andy was a really talented all round swimmer. He held South African national school records for several years in the 200m and 400m Individual medley and 100m and 200m butterfly.  He was selected for the South African team in the late seventies, a notorious time when South Africa was banned from the Olympics. Unfortunately  because of this Andy and other South African sportspersons never had the chance to participate in this great international arena. After school, Andy’s swimming talent took him to Indiana University in America, where he trained with coach Doc Counsilman (also coach to the US Olympic team, including Mark Spitz). He later moved to Louisiana University to complete his degree in Geology and continued to swim for the university squad until his final months of study, when he gave up swimming to focus on academics.

Notwithstanding my stated objective of crossing the English Channel, in my late teens, I gave up swimming. As I got older and moved on to university, the hours spent pounding up and down a pool lost appeal, and gradually fizzled out.

Andy, Christine and Catherine after their swim across the English Channel (Photo: courtesy Catherine Stefanutti)

Many years later, I moved to England. My sister Christine encouraged me to give open water swimming a shot. Christine had been participating in open water events in South Africa for a few years. It had rekindled her love for swimming and she was doing very well.  When she suggested that I join her for an event at London’s Docklands, I loved the idea.  I went for a few refresher sessions with my kids’ swimming teacher and took it from there.  I surprised myself by swimming the event in good time and so the journey began.That was the beginning of my journey to open water swimming. We – Christine and I – commenced by entering organized events like the Great London Swim, South Africa’s Midmar Mile and various Thames River swims. From that, we progressed to sea swims. Soon, we were looking for bigger challenges. The first of these was the Hellespont Europe to Asia swim in Turkey. A couple of years later, we swam the slightly easier Bosphorus (Asia to Europe). Then I swam the 17 km-length of Lake Windermere.

Meanwhile the old promise of crossing the English Channel resurfaced. Even with all the open water swimming I had done, this was an enormous challenge. What changed the equation was the realisation that the Channel could be swum in relay format. I felt sure that doing it this way was manageable and would ` tick the box,’ to fulfil my childhood dream. In 2014, Christine and I, along with a friend, joined a charity team to swim across the Channel as a six person-relay. Crossing done and that box in mind ticked, I was back in 2015, this time as part of a five person-relay team assembled by my coach Tracey Baumann. In 2016, I returned again for a third crossing. The occasion was special; it was a three person-relay team featuring my sister, my brother and I. Notwithstanding these three relay crossings there was still a niggle that I knew would go away only if I attempted a solo . The one thing that stood between me and the solo, was utter fear. I lacked confidence. Yet I knew alongside that I would nurse regret if I didn’t try.

Catherine; from her solo swim across the English Channel (Photo: courtesy Catherine Stefanutti)

I needed tiered progress to my objective. Emma France, a Channel swimmer who runs the Dover Channel Training group, suggested that I build up my confidence by first swimming from Jersey to France, a shorter, gentler crossing (approx. 26 km). Jersey is a British Crown dependency located near the coast of Normandy, France. Among islands in the Channel, it is second closet to France after Alderney. In August 2017 I successfully did this crossing in a time that surprised me and built my confidence. Still I was hesitant to book a slot for an English Channel crossing. So instead, I booked to swim around Jersey in July 2018.  This is an iconic 65 km swim; it is very tough but aided by the fast-moving tides around the island. No sooner had I booked this swim than Emma France approached me to say that somebody had cancelled their slot with Channel Pilot Neil Streeter and she was offering first option to take the place.  That was an offer I couldn’t refuse (English Channel swims are heavily booked, and one normally has to book with a pilot at least two years in advance). I was now faced with the challenge of two major swims booked within two weeks of each other – the enormity of this task was just the push I needed to focus and prepare.

The bulk of my training was on weekends, with the Dover Channel Training Group in Dover. They offer endurance training and full support for aspiring Channel swimmers. The training was complemented by a few sessions with their sister group, Durley Sea Swims, set on the South Coast in Bournemouth. The support given by these groups was invaluable. On 13 July 2018 I successfully swam around Jersey. Exactly three weeks later, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of swimming from England to France, crossing the English Channel solo.

All sports come with associated community of aficionados. It is no different in open water swimming. You meet people sharing the same interest in swimming and wishing to tackle objectives therein. In 2019, Team HOPE from India due for an attempted crossing of the Channel in July confronted an unexpected development. Theirs was a four person-relay. One of their swimmers – Samiir Wheaton – had to withdraw leaving them a swimmer short. Mere weeks remained to allotted time frame for the crossing. Given the limited time it seemed wise to scout for a replacement in the UK. A swimmer from there would be already used to the cold Channel waters. If someone was recruited in India then that person would have to go through the whole process of training in cold water; he / she would also have to do the obligatory two hour-qualifying swim in 16 degrees Celsius water. Against this backdrop, my friend Deepthi Indukuri, who is a Total Immersion swim coach in Mumbai, asked me if I would be interested to join Team HOPE as Samiir’s replacement. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to get back into the English Channel.

Catherine after her solo swim to France (Photo: courtesy Catherine Stefanutti)

Many people think that if you have swum the Channel solo then a four person-relay should be easy. This is certainly not the case. A Channel relay comes with different challenges to a solo and one should never underestimate how tough it is. I met my team (Team HOPE) – the others were Zarir Baliwalla, Moiz Rajkotwala and Sudarshan Chari – a few times in the days before the crossing. The weather was unstable that week and the swim kept getting postponed or called off. Such uncertainty causes a lot of angst for swimmers; they are forced to wait. Finally, on the evening of July 11, our pilot Reg Brickell gave the go-ahead to attempt the crossing early next morning. On July 12, the swim started just after sunrise in reasonable conditions, which gradually worsened as the day progressed. By the time the team reached the French shipping lane, the weather had changed dramatically.  A strong wind working against a strong tide created large waves causing boat and swimmers to be tossed around in the cold water. The team did what they had to – dig deep and push hard through the tides. Fifteen hours after we started from England, we eventually landed on a sandy beach in France.

What an adventure we had, what a team we made. We started as strangers and now have a lifelong bond through achieving this great challenge together. Indeed, one of the things I love most about the open water swimming community is how swimmers from around the world are brought together by circumstance.  For some reason, I have repeatedly found a connection with swimmers from India. Some years ago, I met Deepthi Indukuri in a Masters swimming group, while she was training to become a Total Immersion Coach.  Deepthi was in the UK at the time, completing her Master’s degree. When she returned to India, she retained her strong connection with the group.

Catherine with members of Team HOPE. From left: Moiz Rajkotwala, Zarir Baliwalla, Catherine and Sudarshan Chari (Photo: courtesy Catherine)

In 2017, I spent most weekends of the summer training with the Dover Channel Training community, training for my Jersey to France solo swim.  Here I met Sameer Patil who had taken a three month sabbatical to come and train in the UK, in preparation for his English Channel solo that September. Sameer and I regularly swam together, we were a similar pace and I enjoyed training with him. My approach to training can be rather casual but Sameer was extremely driven and focussed. This pushed me to work harder and I really benefitted from that. During the season, Sameer often encouraged me to think about swimming the English Channel solo, something I was still afraid to commit to.

On 16 September 2017 Sameer Patil successfully swam the English Channel. As is tradition, a Channel swimmer picks up a pebble on the beach where he or she lands and takes it home as a well-earned trophy.  However, Sameer landed on a sandy beach in the middle of the night; he could not find a pebble in the dark.  Before he returned to India, I told him that I would plan a day trip to France and find him a pebble on the beach where he landed. His answer to me was very clear: No Catherine, I want you to swim to France to get my pebble.  I can honestly say that his words stuck in my head and played a big role in my decision to go for it (I did swim to France and got us both a pebble).

I have had the pleasure of meeting several Indian swimmers who have come to train in Dover, including amazing swimmers like Vandita Dhariyal. I never expected to become part of an Indian team swimming the English Channel. It was a great honour for me when this opportunity arose. I became a proud member of Team HOPE.

Catherine swimming for Team HOPE (Photo: courtesy Catherine Stefanutti)

Suggestions for those aspiring to swim the English Channel

If you are interested in swimming the English Channel as a team or individual, the first step is to book a pilot and boat. There are two official Channel Swimming Organisations and each has a list of registered pilots.  Pilot information and contact details can be found on the websites of these organisations, either the Channel Swimming Association (www.channelswimmingassociation.com) or the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (www.cspf.co.uk).  Channel crossings are done from mid-June to end September so there are only a limited number of places.  People book their slots up to three years in advance, although if you want to go sooner it is worth contacting the pilots as they do sometimes have cancellations.  Both websites contain lots of vital and useful information about Channel swimming.

Once you have booked your swim, it is time to start with the preparation and training. Cold water acclimatisation is a big factor and it is advisable to start with short swims in very cold water, gradually building up to longer swims as the water warms up.  In India the biggest challenge is finding cold water.  Some Indian swimmers have attended cold water swim camps around the world whilst others will plan to spend time before their swim in the UK to swim with the Dover Channel Training group.  In order to swim the Channel, it is obligatory to complete a qualifying swim in water temperature below 16 degrees Celsius.  Relay swimmers need to complete a two hour-qualifying swim, whilst solo swimmers need to complete six hours.  Training should be a combination of long swims as well as regular pool training and general fitness.

Channel swimmers’ tradition – signing on the wall of Fleurs pub in Dover (Photo: courtesy Catherine Stefanutti)

Swimming in a relay is great preparation for a solo swim as you will experience the conditions and challenges of the English Channel first hand. Obviously a solo swim is more demanding than a relay, both physically and mentally. However, both have unique challenges and a relay should never be underestimated.  A relay requires team members to swim in rotation till reaching France.  This means doing an hour of swimming, getting out, warming up and preparing to enter the cold water again for the next hour swim; repeating this until you reach France.  There are stringent rules to adhere to in order for the swim to be recognised.  Each time you return to the water, you need to prepare mentally for the hour ahead.  Whilst on the boat a big challenge is seasickness.  Pilot boats are small vessels travelling at a swimmer’s pace, which means a lot of rocking motion and many relays have been aborted due to swimmers being too ill to carry on. Preparing for this is essential and there are various medications available. These need to be tested for side effects beforehand.  Most crossings will involve swimming in the night and swimmers will need to prepare mentally for this.

It is beneficial to train in conditions similar to the Channel but it is not always practical to do so. It is a good idea to join open water swimming groups and take every opportunity to swim in open water.  It is also useful to become part of a Channel swimming community through social media as you can always draw on other people’s experiences and expertise.  Dover Channel Training is a good example of such a group, as is the Outdoor Swimming Society.

(The author, Catherine Stefanutti, is a Channel swimmer based in England. She is “ a full time mum (two teenagers), part time swimming teacher and company director for our family construction business.’’ For more on Team HOPE please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/06/29/a-relay-swim-across-the-english-channel/)

WORLD BY CYCLING

Photo credit: Chenthil Mohan / Photo: courtesy Rutuja Satpute

Born into a family, where the father was a well-known cyclist, Rutuja Satpute was brought up to follow suit. Years later, the 25 year-old has consistently finished on the podium at national level competitions and won the same award her father was once bestowed with. But she has also seen the gap between Indian cyclists and those overseas, not to mention – the difference in how cycling is perceived here and abroad. Having done one trip to Belgium with the Indian Cycling Project, she hopes for more. 

“ Where are you off to now?’’ the young man before me asked. We had just finished a conversation; material to use for an article on cycling. I returned note book and pen to my bag and took out the cellphone to check for next address. We were at a café with a wonderful setting.  It was on the sixth floor of a building. Right below was a busy road, as much a sight for sore eyes as any traffic filled-road in any Indian city. But from where we were, the eye caught none of that mess and instead gazed across landscape turned green, courtesy monsoon. You were in Pune and yet, not there. “ I am heading to Khilarewadi,’’ I said, mentioning the name of the person I intended to meet as well. He nodded his head. “ Now that’s somebody genuinely accomplished. She has a solid track record,’’ he said.

Rutuja with her father, Sanjay Satpute (Photo: courtesy Rutuja Satpute)

In Khilarewadi, it wasn’t difficult locating Sanjay Cycles. It was a small house, part of several in a row, each row separated by a small path. Two road bikes stood stacked to one side. Hrishikesh informed his sister that the journalist, who had called earlier, had come. It was a tiny room. There was an adjacent kitchen. Right next to where I sat was narrow staircase leading to room above. There, I was told – the family’s remaining cycles were stored. It was an interest for the sport commencing with Sanjay Satpute, Rutuja’s father. He is a former national level cyclist, champion in time trial and mass start and state award (Shiv Chhatrapati award) winner.  He worked at Hindustan Antibiotics and also coached at Pune’s Balewadi Sports Complex. Now he runs a bicycle service center. His daughter followed in his footsteps. “ I grew up watching my father and his love for cycling,’’ Rutuja Satpute, born 1994, said. But it wasn’t a dive straight into cycling. Sanjay wanted her to first acquire stamina. So even as a small child she was enrolled for swimming and running at the city’s Deccan Gymkhana following which, she was introduced to the triathlon. By the time she was in mid-school she was participating in triathlon competitions in her age category.

Photo: courtesy Rutuja Satpute

Around 2006, she moved to focus on cycling. The 12 year-old needed a road bike. Sanjay made her one; a steel road bike. He had also fabricated a helmet for himself. He passed that on to his daughter. The steel steed was her ride for the next few years. She took it to her first bicycle races. Given keen competition, it is no longer possible to thoroughly discount the importance of technology in cycling. What bike you are using matters when it comes to improving efficiency in a sport where each second counts. Saint-Etienne is a city in eastern central France, on the trunk road connecting Lyons and Toulouse.  Some consider it the capital of the French bicycle industry. The city hosts a stage of the annual Tour de France. It is also home to wheel manufacturer Mavic and frame builders, Motobecane and Vitus. After a few years spent pedaling the steel road bike, Rutuja got a Vitus – it was yet again a bike that her father used. By the time she was in high school, she got her first major victory – in time trial – in the under 15 years-category, a first place in the 7km-individual time trial at the 14th Road National Championships held in Thiruchengode, Tamil Nadu. Thereafter podium finishes were steady.

Upon completing her seventh standard, Rutuja joined Kreeda Prabodhini and shifted to the sports hostel at Balewadi. It is where some of the city’s major sports facilities are clustered. This move provided her formal coaching; it also brought her closer to the local velodrome, which has a concrete cycling track. Years earlier, when she was a small child frequenting the Deccan Gymkhana, she used to swim and exercise regularly after school hours. Once cycling entered the frame (cycling was typically in the early morning hours), she progressively dropped off both swimming and running. Swimming lingered around as cross training. At the sports hostel, her day commenced at 4 AM. The students would assemble by 6 AM and till 8.30 AM, they engaged in physical training. Around 2.30 PM they would return from school and at 4 PM, they engaged again in physical training (Rutuja called it “ ground work’’) till 6.30 PM. In Rutuja’s case, the training was mostly oriented towards cycling. Actual cycling happened on the road and at the velodrome. Weekly mileage in cycling was not much. She confessed to there being a gap between her capabilities and expectations compared to other girls around. The reason was simple – she hailed from a family that was into cycling. She had a sense of what lay ahead and how hard that progression would be. So in training, she benchmarked herself to what the boys did. “ I tried to keep up with them,’’ Rutuja said.

Photo credit: Chenthil Mohan / Photo: courtesy Rutuja Satpute

Roughly a year later (following the 2007 nationals at Thiruchengode), at the 2008 national competition held in Jamkhandi, Karnataka, she secured two gold medals in under-15 – in time trial and mass start. Given this performance, she was given the opportunity to try her hand at competing with the seniors. A couple of more years and at the 2011 nationals held in Pune, Rutuja, competing in under-17, won gold in the time trial with timing that was “ on par with seniors.’’ At a subsequent national level competition held in Rohtak however, she had to settle for bronze. The new one piece cycling costume she had been given lacked adequate padding. It affected performance.  Nevertheless that bronze medal represented her first podium finish in the senior category. Somewhere during this journey, she also got her third bicycle – a Cannondale road bike. It was obtained second-hand. The frame had a minor crack, which Sanjay repaired for her. She rode that to two gold medals at competitions. When this blog met her, Rutuja wasn’t using the Cannondale anymore given the repaired frame. But it was still around. The bike was subsequently replaced with a Merida. “ The bikes are stored upstairs,’’ she said pointing to the staircase close to where I sat.

Photo: courtesy Rutuja Satpute

Rutuja was at Balewadi from 2009 to 2015. In women’s time trial and mass start, strong competition those years was offered by Kerala, Manipur, Haryana and Punjab. In 2012, Rutuja was selected to the Indian camp for the first time. She was one of three girls from Balewadi selected so. The camp, meant for the 2013 Asian Championships, was held in Shilaru, Himachal Pradesh. But by November 2012, Rutuja was out of it. Following her performance at the open trials in Delhi in January 2013, she regained her place. The Asian Championships of March 2013 was her first taste of international competition. “ It was a good experience,’’ she said. It was equally humbling. She finished 34th in the mass start held at the Formula One race track near Delhi. She was behind the cyclist who finished first by nearly seven to eight minutes. On the other hand, the gap between her and fellow Indian cyclists was in the range of 15-30 seconds. Of six Indian women who started the race, only three finished, among whom, Rutuja was second. But there was a footnote – while the Indian men had an opportunity ahead of competition to cycle on the F1 track and get a feel of it, the women enjoyed no such privilege. Roughly six months later, in September, at the ACC Track Asia Cup held at Suphanburi, Thailand, Rutuja was part of the Indian team securing bronze in team sprint. Through all this, the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) did not send her for any coaching overseas. She trained as best as she could in India – her father oversaw it when she was in Pune, other coaches supervised her training when she was part of the Indian camp.

Rutuja, cycling in Belgium (Photo credit: Chenthil Mohan / Photo: courtesy Naveen John)

In 2014, she secured first place at one of the editions of the Pune Bicycle Championships. It caught the attention of Pune-based bicycle company Giant Starkenn. They gifted a mountain bike; later at her request, she was given a Giant Propel road bike. Her collection besides the Giant, now include cycles from Raleigh, Vitus, Cannondale, Fuji and Merida; the Fuji was issued by the Balewadi sports facility. Our conversation was briefly interrupted by a client arrived to ask about bicycle servicing. Rutuja moved out to speak to the lady. “ I can take apart bicycles and put them back together. I can do repairing and servicing,’’ she said on return. The bicycle servicing facility Sanjay started has evolved into a family affair. According to Rutuja, she and Hrishikesh (he used to be a competition cyclist till a respiratory problem ended the journey; he now works with an airline company) help out. They have about 200-250 clients and rainy season is busy time for the business. One of the challenges in deep passion for something is bridging the gap between need dictated by interest and money to spend. Cycling is an expensive interest to sustain. The network of clients earned by servicing bicycles has occasionally pitched in to help with resources for family into cycling, Rutuja said. She mentioned new wheels for her bike, acquired so. In 2016, at the national competition held in Pathanamthitta, Kerala, Rutuja won two gold medals. Following this, Giant Starkenn invited her to a training camp in Ooty. Among cyclists she met there was Naveen John, based in Bengaluru and known to explore avenues to being competent professional cyclist. A motivated, driven personality, he had begun visiting Belgium – among the cradles of competitive cycling in Europe – and taking part in the races there called kermesse. It was part of Naveen’s Indian Cycling Project (ICP).

From the ICP trip to Belgium (Photo credit: Chenthil Mohan / Photo: courtesy Naveen John)

A month after the Ooty camp, Naveen invited Rutuja to join the team proceeding to Belgium for the annual pilgrimage. She was reluctant; if she went, she would be traveling alone with no guardian or chaperone. “ My family was bound to object. Women don’t usually take such initiatives in our society,’’ she said. Naveen spoke to Sanjay. In February 2017, it was decided that she can proceed to Belgium. As first step, she headed to a camp in Bengaluru anchored by Naveen; she also participated in one of the regular races of the Bangalore Bicycle Championships (BBCH). In July she left for Belgium. It was her first trip overseas. From Mumbai, she flew to Dubai and onward to Brussels. In all, Rutuja spent three months in Belgium. She participated in three level-2 kermesse races for women. In the first kermesse, she exited in the first round. In the second, she completed two rounds and then dropped off. In the third, of 16 rounds to complete, she finished nine. Belgium was opportunity to sit up and take note of several things. To begin with, separate paths for bicycles and the general respect given to cyclists were vastly different from the Indian environment where the culture of rat race corrodes and corrupts everything. “ They also have more races overseas. The standards at these races are quite high. Further the schedule of races is known well in advance. When you have a reliable calendar of events like that, cyclists are able to plan their year. They can decide what events to prepare for. It is something we don’t have in India. The CFI is now making an effort to change that and bring in a proper calendar,’’ Rutuja said. But the real take home from Belgium, was realizing how cyclists pushed themselves there. A month after the whole Belgium visit, it was back to reality, taking part in the nationals at Jamkhandi. Rutuja secured gold.

Photo credit: Chenthil Mohan / Photo: courtesy Rutuja Satpute

At the time of meeting her in July 2019, Rutuja’s last major competition had been the 2017 Track Asian Championships, where the Indian team placed fifth. She also took part in the ACC Track Asia Cup (2014, 2015, 2016 editions) where she won one silver and two bronze medals. In February 2016, at the South Asian Games held in Guwahati, she was part of the team securing gold in the 40 kilometer-team time trial. In March 2018, she got the same state award – Shiv Chhatrapati award – that her father had got earlier. Two months later, she underwent surgery to correct a back problem. It took her three months to recover. Towards end-August she resumed training. At the 2018 National Road Championships held at Kurukshetra, Haryana, she managed to get a bronze medal. Early 2019, at the All India Inter-University competitions held in Amritsar, Punjab, she won two gold medals – in the individual time trial and the team time trial. Her resume featuring a long list of events participated in, was crammed with podium finishes. In all  (across individual and team events) she had won 14 gold medals, 10 silver and nine bronze at the national level; one gold, two silver and three bronze at the senior international level and four gold, three silver and four bronze at the university level.

As of July 2019, Rutuja had completed her first year in B.P.Ed (physical education) from Guru Nanak Dev University. Focused on road cycling, she wasn’t interested in tackling the really long distances of ultra-cycling. “ I have not tried doing any BRMs,’’ she said. As for Belgium, Rujuta hoped to repeat the trip.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with Rutuja Satpute.)            

AT A GLANCE / AUGUST 2019

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Nine-member team to represent India at IAU 100k Asia Oceania Championships

A nine-member team has been chosen from among Indian ultra-runners to represent the country at the 2019 IAU 100 kilometer Asia Oceania Championships to be held on November 23, 2019 at Aqaba, Jordan, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) said today (August 9) in a statement.

The team includes Anjali Saraogi, Darishisha Langjuh and Gunjan Khurana among women and Abhinav Jha, Deepak Bandbe, Sandeep Kumar, Suraj Chada, Tlanding Wahlang and Vikas Malik among men. Hemant Beniwal has been named as stand by for the men’s team, the statement said.

According to it, AFI had set standards, which included specific cut off times for races such as 50 miles, Comrades Marathon (up and down run), 12-hour and 100k. Achievements in a period of 18 months before the date of the Championship were considered and AFI specified guidelines for comparing performance across different races.

Races done during the period of May 22, 2018 till August 5, 2019 were considered.

Also, the athletes meeting the qualification standards were required to have run an ultra-distance race as proof of fitness between February 22, 2019 and August 5, 2019.

The team heading for the 2019 IAU 100 kilometer Asia Oceania Championships is sponsored by IDBI Federal Life Insurance, the statement said.

From the press conference of August 9 (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Over 300 runners to participate in the sixth edition of Mumbai Ultra

The 2019 edition of Mumbai Ultra – 12 Hour Run to be held on August 15, 2019, is likely to see participation by over 300 runners.

For the first time, the city’s original 12-hour run, now in its sixth year, will feature timing chips for runners.

Runners are expected to start running from 5 AM and continue to do so until 5 PM in a loop from Mumbai’s Shivaji Park to Worli Sea Face. The 12-kilometer loop will be shortened this year to about 10 kilometers because of the Coastal Road Project. Due to ongoing work on the project some portions of the original route are off limits, the organizers of the event said at a press briefing today, August 9.

Runners will have to undergo mandatory medical check-ups at the end of each loop. There will be four aid stations along the route. Apart from food and water these stations will also have physiotherapists at hand to help any runner requiring such intervention, the organizers said.

The theme of Mumbai Ultra this year is Run over Cancer and Wellness over Illness.

Coach, Daniel Vaz, is race director for the 2019 edition of the event.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

AFI selects team to represent India at 2019 IAU 24 Hour World Championships

Ten ultra-runners – six men and four women – have been chosen to represent India at the 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships to be held at Albi, France over October 26-27, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) said in a statement.

The women in the team will be Apoorva Chaudhary, Hemlata, Priyanka Bhatt and Shyamala Sathyanarayana. The men include Ullas Narayana, Binay Sah, Sunil Sharma, Pranaya Mohanty, Kanan Jain and Chanderkant.

As per AFI standards, the athlete is required to have run a minimum of 205 kilometers (men) and 165 kilometers (women) in a 24-hour race in a period of 18 months before the date of the championship.

Races completed during the period April 26, 2018 to July 31, 2019 were considered. Further, as proof of fitness, athletes meeting the qualification standards were expected to have run an ultra-race between January 26, 2019 and July 31, 2019, AFI said.

The improving performance of Indian ultra and trail runners has prompted AFI and NEB Sports to bid for hosting the 2020 IAU 24-hour and 2021 IAU 100 k Asia and Oceania Championships in India, the statement said.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH SPORTS

Corina Van Dam (Photo: courtesy Corina)

Trained to be a football coach, Corina Van Dam, opted to use sport as means to heal and empower. Currently living in Mumbai, she has been running for several years and is now figuring out which distance suits her best.

During a recent six-hour night run in Thane near Mumbai, many runners ran determinedly through the heavy, sometimes lashing rain.

One among them was Corina (aka Cocky) Van Dam, a Dutch runner, living and working in Mumbai for the past three years. She surprised herself by covering a distance of 50.7 kilometers during those six hours.

Two weeks later, she ran a 50k race at the Igatpuri Mountain Challenge. She finished the race in six hours, 26 minutes and 23 seconds securing top position among women aged 46 and above. A week must have gone by. Then she wound up on the podium yet again in her age category, at the BNP Endurathon in Mumbai. She covered the 25k distance in 2:28:14 hours.

Corina grew up in Alkmaar, a town 40 kilometers north of Amsterdam in Netherlands. The local topography was largely flat; there was much water around and as is characteristic of Netherlands, a lot of wind. It is a town well known in the cheese business and home to a velodrome hosting the annual Dutch national track cycling championships (the European Cycling Championships is scheduled to take place in Alkmaar from August 7 to 11, 2019). Not to mention, it is the birthplace of Harm Ottenbros, unexpected winner of the 1969 world cycling championship; he came in from nowhere to win that title but earned the ire of fellow cyclists and fans for just that – being the nobody who snatched the title from under the nose of more fancied heavyweights. Alkmaar also has a private museum dedicated to the British band, Beatles.

Photo: courtesy Corina Van Dam

Growing up, sport was an integral part of Corina’s education. At the age of 12, she began playing football at a local club. She commenced playing at a still younger age but there were no girls’ teams around. The Dutch are passionate about football. Alkmaar and Corina’s family therein were no different. The town is home to the football club Alkmaar Zaanstreek (AZ), winners of the Dutch football league (Eredivisie), in 1980-81 and 2008-09. Corina was good at football. The game gave her the nickname she goes by – Cocky. She trained to be a sports coach. But she soon discovered that it was “ boring to teach people sports.’’ It was rather limited in scope. She sought something more engaging; something that would touch people’s lives in a more fundamental way.

So she opted for an internship with a mental health institute. The institute used sports as medium to help mentally ill people. For 20 years, she worked at the clinic employing sports as a means to assist patients in their treatment and recovery. “ People are depressed, sometimes so depressed that they don’t want to move. As part of psychomotor therapy, I used football to treat patients suffering from depression. There is evidence that running works well to treat patients,’’ Corina said. Psychomotor therapy uses physical activity and body awareness to help in the healing process.

After two decades spent working in the Netherlands, in 2005, Corina decided to move to Kenya to work with a community-based organisation called Moving the Goalposts (MTG) in Kilifi. She was placed as a volunteer through Voluntary Service Overseas, an international NGO.  A sport for development outfit, MTG harnesses the power of football to overcome social obstacles girls and young women face in coastal Kenya. Teenage pregnancy was (and still is) a very big issue in the country. That was among topics Corina required working with. Central to MTG’s strategy was football. Located on the east coast of Africa, Kenya has varied topography that includes an Indian Ocean seaboard, the Great Rift Valley and the Kenyan Highlands famous for tea and running. Corina worked at Kilifi near Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city situated on the coast. Roughly 4400 kilometers north east from Mombasa, across the sea, lay Mumbai, India’s financial capital. After working in Kenya for 11 years, Corina moved to Mumbai to work with Naz Foundation (India) Trust.

Corina Van Dam at the Mumbai office of Naz Foundation (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Naz India is an NGO working in the field of HIV / AIDS and sexual health. Corina works as Impact Manager at Naz Foundation. She is focussed on Young People’s Initiative (YPI), a program to empower girls by using sports and life skills education. It seeks to provide opportunities for adolescent girls. “ Many NGOs now leverage sport as tool to empower girls with reference to their body and emotions,’’ she said.

Naz India’s YPI project uses netball as sport for team building and empowering activities. “ Group sport or team sports helps tackle peer pressure, instil team work and develop leadership skills as opposed to individual sport,’’ Corina said. The choice of netball was because it is less of a contact sport compared to football and such a game appeared to suit the girls joining the program. Some other NGOs use sports such as football, basketball and kabaddi for similar work. For Naz India, the choice of sport is based on the needs and issues at hand in each of the projects that the foundation takes up. Naz India primarily works in schools, mostly trust-run schools. “ We are constantly negotiating with schools and designing our projects based on the feedback,’’ Corina said.

As an Impact Manager, Corina’s role is to make constant assessment of the teams working in schools; whether they are achieving their objectives or not. Outside of work, she continues to play football, mostly in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra. She plays for Wolfpack FC. She got to participate in local league matches.

Photo: courtesy Corina Van Dam

Many football players, according to her, do not like running as a specific sport. It’s one thing to run playing football; it’s another running a marathon focused solely on movement with no paradigm of game, team or score enveloping it. However, she took to running during her teens and continued to do so through her years in the Netherlands. In Kenya, living in Kilifi a rural area near Mombasa, Corina resorted to running in the nearby farmlands. She ran three times a week covering a distance of 7-10 kilometers on each of those practice sessions. She also recalled making a brief visit to Iten in the highlands of Kenya, home to the country’s best runners. “ I visited Lornah Kiplagat and her husband Pieter Langerhorsts’ high altitude training center. That was a fleeting visit,’’ Corina said. Olympian Lornah Kiplagat, a Dutch cross country and long-distance runner, is of Kenyan origin. She is a four time-world champion and has held world records over 5 km, 10 miles, 20 km and the half marathon. The training center in Iten was founded in 1999.

Arriving in Mumbai in 2016, Corina decided to look for a house at Tilak Nagar primarily because of its proximity to her place of work at Vidyavihar, just a kilometer away. At Tilak Nagar, the well-known Sahyadri Ground became venue for her daily practice runs. She runs several rounds of the ground in 500 meter-loops. “ Many women came and asked me how I got into running. They also expressed a desire to take up running,” Corina said. Hailing from Netherlands, she beheld the scene with curiosity. “ At the Tilak Nagar ground, a lot of people were involved in various activities. But you rarely found women at the centre of the ground. It is now slowly changing,’’ she said at the small Mumbai office of Naz Foundation tucked away on the ground floor of an apartment complex. It was July 2019. Just days earlier the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup had concluded with USA defeating Netherlands 2-0 in the final. It was the first time the Dutch national women’s team played in the final – a point Corina recalled with pride and a feeling of much changed since she started playing football when the sport was considered a game for men.

Photo: courtesy Corina Van Dam

Corina’s first stint at a running event in India was the Dream Run segment of the 2017 Mumbai Marathon, something that happened because Naz India was a recipient of free slots to the run. For someone used to regular running like Corina, the Dream Run and its wall of people ambling along was a disappointment. In 2018, at the same event, she chose to run the newly introduced 10k segment and finished on the podium in her age group of 50-54 years.

In the 2019 edition, she ran the full marathon finishing the distance in 5:15:06 hours securing eighth position among women in her age group. This was her background prior to that rain soaked six hour-run in Thane, the 50k and the 25k, which followed. She was recently appointed Pinkathon Ambassador. Through this, her responsibilities now include empowering women through running. “ I am still figuring out which distance is best suited for me. I also plan to participate in the Goa Ironman later this year,’’ she said.

Goa Ironman 70.3 or Half Ironman is slated to be held on October 20, 2019. Corina, now 54, has invested in a road bike. She cycles regularly and for swimming she visits the pool at Dharavi. She hasn’t yet done any open water swimming in India but given she grew up in Alkmaar with its share of open water and winter temperatures, hopes she should be able to tackle it.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

AFI TO ALLOT FUNDS FOR GRASSROOTS LEVEL DEVELOPMENT OF ATHLETICS

Illustration:Shyam G Menon

This may be the first instance of a national sports federation providing grants to district associations.

AFI plans to raise the required corpus of funds on its own.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has decided to provide grants to 100 district athletics associations in recognition of their consistent good work to promote athletics in their area and compete in the annual National Inter-District Junior Athletics Meet (NIDJAM).

In an official statement (dated August 2, 2019) available on the AFI website, the federation’s president, Adille Sumariwalla said this will be a pilot project in 2019 and will be extended to more districts in a couple of years. AFI believes that this may be the first instance of a national sports federation providing grants to district associations.

“ We know that we have to broaden the base to be able to find the talent that can be nurtured to passionately pursue Olympian dreams,’’ Mr Sumariwala said. According to him, the initiative has the support of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’ Khelo India program. “ We met the Ministry and Sports Authority of India officials a few weeks ago to finalize the modalities of this game-changing move,’’ Mr. Sumariwalla said in the statement. AFI has already initiated the process of identifying the 100 districts to be provided financial support this year.

According to an AFI official this blog spoke to, there is no budgetary support from government for this scheme. AFI plans to raise the required corpus of funds on its own. “ The quantum of money to be raised has been decided but it will be premature to disclose it at this stage. We hope to raise the funds through sponsorship,’’ the official said. Once the corpus is in place and funds are allocated to a district athletics association it will be used to ensure that certain minimum quality standards – examples being the infrastructure needed to hold a proper competition, making sure that people know about the event – are met. It will help introduce and maintain benchmarks in event organization. When allotting funds to district associations, there will be no discrimination on the basis of profile and prominence.

On its part, the government has agreed to support the athletic talent spotted by AFI at inter district meets, the official said. Such support will be as part of the government’s Khelo India program.

AFI believes that this move will inspire the state associations to streamline themselves better. At the recent annual general meeting of AFI, officials from state associations were told in clear terms to shape up or ship out, the statement said. AFI also encouraged youngsters from the districts to take up and complete the IAAF Coaches Education and Certification Level 1 program.

All districts will conduct their championships ahead of the 17th NIDJAM for under-16 and under-14 boys and girls which will be held from November 24. AFI is planning a meeting with the presidents and secretaries of close to 500 districts to share details of the AFI development program and motivate them to make athletics more popular in their respective districts, the statement said.

Athletes who came up through previous editions of NIDJAM include javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra (2012), sprinter Dutee Chand (2011), discus thrower Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (2010) and 400m runner V Subha (2014).

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

PSYNYDE BIKES: WEATHERING TOUGH CHEMISTRY

Psynyde Dioxide (Photo: Vinay Menon)

In 2016, when Psynyde Bikes launched the Furan MTB, it was for India, a rare instance of cycling enthusiasts designing bicycles, manufacturing overseas and selling in modest numbers in the domestic market. After a promising start, the company is now in a phase of struggle. If it persists, it may be able to look back and say of now: that was a learning experience.

Roughly three years after introducing their first factory built-models capable of selling in modest numbers, brand Psynyde continues to retain the cultish feel that accompanies performance. In that time, it also experienced reversals on the business front not for want of product acceptance but things gone wrong internally in the fledgling company. The core team is back to two – MTB enthusiast turned bicycle designer and builder, Praveen Prabhakaran, and Vinay Menon who still rides hard and oversees marketing for the brand.

On the bright side, the initial 100 units-strong consignment of the trail bike they designed – Psynyde Furan – sold out in a year; as did an initial lot of 100 of the hybrid – Oxygen. Feedback was encouraging. There have been no complaints except for small issues with a plastic cap, Praveen said. However, the Chinese factory, which manufactured the bike frames he designed, fell into hard times. Praveen said he has identified alternative factories, capable of similar quality.

Vinay Menon riding at Flow Show, Canada (Photo: Vinay Menon)

According to Vinay, Psynyde’s bikes as well as the bicycle components it made featured at domestic and international competitions. The Furan was chosen steed for Psynyde sponsored-riders and some of the company’s customers, who took part in these events. There have also been a couple of podium finishes. Brand Psynyde – as component or whole bicycle – was seen at events including the 2012 FLOW Show demos in Canada, the 2013 and 2014 Asia Pacific Downhill Championships, multiple editions of the Himalayan Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy, 2016 and 2017 Bangalore Mountain Festival Downhill Race, TDRY Gui’de International Downhill Cycling Race in China, 2018 Mechuka Downhill Championship, 2018 National BMX Flatland Championship and the 2019 Bangalore Bicycle Championship (downhill race). But there was tragedy too, one that was felt deeply at Psynyde.

In July 2017, Ajay Padval, a talented mountain biker from Pune, died in an accident while biking down from Khardung La near Leh. This downhill ride, done on the road connecting Leh to Nubra valley via Khardung La, is a popular supported trip availed by many visitors to Ladakh. Ajay was no different; he wanted to taste the experience. He was driven up to Khardung La along with others set to ride down from the high pass to Leh. That day, unfortunately for Ajay, something went wrong resulting in serious injury. Found fallen on the road, he was rushed to the local hospital but passed away the next day. “ Ajay was a very important member of the Psynyde team in the little time he spent with us. Right from being a dedicated team athlete – not just mountain biking, he was excellent at slacklining too – to giving important inputs in operations and matters related to product design. Ajay’s unfortunate demise affected us a lot,’’ Vinay said. Ajay had grown up watching older cycling enthusiasts; among them Praveen and Vinay. They were all part of the same MTB ecosystem in Pune. Not long after Psynyde got into bicycle manufacturing, he joined the company. His untimely passing was therefore personal loss for Praveen and Vinay.

Ajay Padval (Photo: Veloscope)

On the product front, both the Furan and Oxygen were perceived in the market as versatile bicycles. The Furan was designed to be a hard tail MTB capable of tackling a variety of terrain and riding styles; the Oxygen known to be light weight and having geometry partial to speed has been used by customers for purposes ranging from regular commute and weekend rides to bicycle touring. In 2018, Pune-based Abhishek Iyer toured across Norway on a Psynyde Oxygen. From a second lot of Oxygen, at the time of writing, about 90 units remained in stock in Pune. The company needed to invest afresh in components if it was to assemble and sell all of them. As of July, Praveen and Vinay were looking for investors who understood Psynyde’s line of business as well as the performance image, brand Psynyde had created for itself.

Psynyde’s capital requirements are of modest dimension. But the challenge is procuring financial support without the associated baggage of altered direction for the company. Having created its narrative to date by aligning with the performance segment, Psynyde does not want to trade that image for recovery plans advising dilution of its profile. “ One potential investor asked us to change the brand name and make it more mainstream. That was unacceptable,’’ Praveen said.  At the same time, he was aware of the fact that a bicycle business can’t be founded wholly on presence in niche, performance segments. “ There is so much I wanted to do. Instead I have all this to sort out now,’’ Praveen said at his house on the outskirts of Pune. It was July 2019; annual season of rain.

Abhishek Iyer with the Psynyde Oxygen (This photo of Abhishek was downloaded from the Facebook page of Psynyde Bikes)

Praveen is happiest discussing bicycle technology and design. He took out his cellphone to show photos of a beautiful road bike with carbon fiber-frame mated to steel joints and wireless, electronic shifters that he had built for a client. It was part of the original custom built-bicycles business that was Psynyde; the seed which eventually spawned a company selling modest volumes of cycles designed by it and factory-built in China. Psynyde’s logo sat prominently on the road bike’s head tube.

Before us in the room, was the prototype of a new Furan. In a major departure from previous models of the Furan and Oxygen, the prototype sported only one chain ring at the front. There was a nine speed-cassette at the rear. The combination changed the traditional MTB gear ratios seen in India but made the bike simpler. It also had front suspension capable of greater travel and a hydraulic seat post that adjusted remotely allowing rider to sit low on downhills and revert to regular height once such sections were tackled. Should this model proceed beyond prototype and witness production, Praveen hoped to have a more aggressive angle for the front suspension. He was also considering steel as metal to build with; potential fallout of that being frame composed of absolutely straight lines unlike the prototype with down tube slightly curved towards its junction with the head tube.

Psynyde Psymptom prototype (Photo: Vinay Menon)

Also available to see as photographs were prototypes of two downhill bikes from Psynyde – the Psymptom and Dioxide. Both sported four bar design for rear suspension set up. The Psymptom had this set up essayed in CNC machine cut-aluminum (rest of the frame was chromoly steel) while the Dioxide was wholly 4130 chromoly steel. As with the Psymptom and Dioxide, a Furan 2 made of steel was not concept, suddenly conceived. Praveen had been toying with the idea of getting back to steel tubing for a while. In the story of bicycles, steel disliked for its weight had given way to aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber.  All these materials have their merits and demerits.  For instance, even as aluminum is lighter, points of welding are usually invitation to lose strength. As lighter materials gained currency in cycling, steel alloys evolved further. Today, very thin steel tubing that does not weigh a lot, is available. The return of steel is particularly visible in the MTB segment overseas, Praveen and Vinay said.

The tubes used are butted steel tubes, which have varying wall thickness. Such fabrication isn’t yet a strong point with Indian manufacturing, particularly at the dimensions (wall thickness) needed for contemporary performance bicycles. Further when it comes to modest volumes of raw materials, like that needed by Psynyde, any Indian supplier capable of making butted tubes in steel finds it unviable scale. Result – the tubes have to be imported from British, Italian, American and Japanese suppliers; often at high import duty for no better reason than that its eventual application is in cycling. The Dioxide was featured on VitalMTB, a major online portal for MTB news. “ There will be downhill riders in India appreciative of the Psymptom and the Dioxide,’’ Vinay said. Problem is – downhill is a smaller world within India’s small world of MTB. That relapse to niche category brings us back to a familiar predicament.

Psynyde Dioxide, rider: Hrishi Mandke (Photo: Vinay Menon)

If its products are meant for niche within niche, where will Psynyde’s main revenues come from to sustain its avatar of company designing own bicycles, manufacturing overseas and selling in modest volumes in India? For sustenance, versatile products like the Furan and Oxygen matter. That’s why the current capital crunch has to be somehow overcome, stocks reached to a market, which anyway liked Psynyde’s products and the momentum carried on. An additional option is to create a set of affordable products closer to mainstream interests in cycling. If so, that would probably have to be done at arm’s length making sure brand Psynyde is not diluted in the process. But there is a deeper question lurking in the backdrop.

The talent required to manage a company is very different from the creativity that goes into bicycle designing or the kick one gets from riding and testing bicycles. Praveen’s house used to be Psynyde’s old factory floor; that was when all Psynyde did was design and custom build bicycles and machine specific components. At that size, the business was easier to manage. Praveen could stay creative and Vinay could continue riding. If they can’t get Psynyde’s current avatar moving at least partly on autopilot mode with good managers in place, then at some point, after cleaning up their liabilities, there will be a question awaiting the duo’s attention: is volume manufacturing their cup of tea? Or are they more comfortable with a boutique operation similar to old, designing and custom-building bicycles?

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with Praveen Prabhakaran and Vinay Menon. For more on Psynyde Bikes, please try the following two links: https://shyamgopan.com/2014/02/06/the-story-of-psynyde/ and https://shyamgopan.com/2016/11/09/psynyde-alert-the-hour-of-the-furan/)

MUSCULAR AND READY TO BOYCOTT

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Over the past few days, the media has reported on the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) recommending boycott of the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) because the event in Birmingham won’t feature shooting, a sport in which India has known strength.

The bullet points are three. First, India is strong in shooting. Second, India has been gradually improving its medals tally at major sports events; at the Gold Coast edition of CWG in 2018, India secured 66 medals of which 16 came from shooting including seven gold medals. Third, if shooting is absent at Birmingham, then, Indian prospects for rich medal harvest become proportionately dim.

The anger at shooting’s exclusion is understandable.

Question is – is boycott the answer?

A threat to boycott may work as means to apply pressure on the organizers.  But beyond that what merit does it have? Especially because the battle is not over any universally prized principle breached as was the case for example, when the sporting world boycotted South Africa in its apartheid years. Here it is clearly one country’s grievance over chances to win medals limited by the absence of a particular sport it is good at. Shooting is one of several sports at large events like CWG, Asian Games or Olympics. Boycott on the other hand, applies to all Indian athletes preparing to participate. In other words, everyone from runners to cyclists to swimmers, gymnasts and badminton players – all will be benched. Why should a whole national squad suffer just because Indian shooters may or may not be going to Birmingham?

The PTI report on the proposed boycott (it is available on the Internet) quoted from the letter Narinder Batra, president, IOA, wrote to the union sports minister, Kiren Rijiju, seeking early discussion on the matter. “ We want to express our protest by not taking part in 2022 CWG in the UK to make the CWG understand that India is not prepared to take India bashing anymore and the people with a particular mindset in CWG need to understand that India got its Independence in 1947 and India is not a colony of anyone anymore and is now the fifth largest economy in the world and by far the fastest growing economy in the world,” the IOA chief said in the letter – so PTI reported. It didn’t end there. “ We have been noticing over a period of time that wherever India seems to be getting grip of the game and performing well, then somehow we find that either the goal posts are shifted or rules are changed. We feel it is time for us in IOA / India to start asking tough questions and start taking tough positions,’’ Batra wrote, adding that given the political sensitivities involved in the matter the IOA does not see itself as the expert to decide. Hence, the request to meet the minister. In June 2019, Batra was elected a member of the International Olympic Council (IOC). Earlier in 2016, he became chief of the International Hockey Federation (FIH).

Batra’s letter to Rijiju presents a contrived argument for boycott. It is hard to comprehend how the reasons (emotions would be a better description) posed – everything from India’s emaciation through colonization to its independence movement to subsequent body building by GDP – are relevant to shooting’s inclusion or exclusion at an international sports event. The letter also contrasts what the sports minister himself stated recently – that he wishes athletes heading to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to focus on their preparation, free of distractions. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to 2022 CWG as well? As regards the more legitimate concern around goal posts shifted, mentioned in Batra’s letter, they are in the domain of sports administration, not sports. Isn’t it the job of sport administrators to sort it out sparing sportspersons inconvenience? If boycott is tool towards the same end, then it must be pointed out alongside that its real effect is one of casting sportspersons into an environment of uncertainty. In other words – it is inconvenience.

According to reports, the IOA’s call for boycott found support from a variety of domestic sports federations. They valued solidarity with IOA over what happens to their athletes. Some athletes too supported. To his credit Abhinav Bindra, India’s best known shooter and the first Indian to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics, spoke up against the call to boycott.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)