Indian gymnasts aim maiden Commonwealth Games medal

The withdrawal of Australia’s former world champion Phil Rizzo due to a shoulder injury has also brightened the medal prospects for 19-member Indian squad which has four gymnasts in top 50 in the world.

Updated: Sep 19, 2010, 18:34 PM IST

New Delhi: The absence of a few big international names may have taken the sheen off gymnastics competition in the next month’s Commonwealth Games but it would provide a good opportunity for Indians to make a mark in a sporting discipline that hardly gets a mention in the country.

India has not won a medal in the discipline but with top gymnasts from other countries giving a miss to focus on the World Championship in Rotterdam in the later part of next month, the country can fancy to open their account this time in front of their crowd.

The withdrawal of Australia’s former world champion Phil Rizzo due to a shoulder injury has also brightened the medal prospects for 19-member Indian squad which has four gymnasts in top 50 in the world.

Between 2001 and 2008, Indian gymnasts hardly participated in any international meet because of financial constraints. Four year’s ago in Melbourne, they finished overall seventh.

It is only in the past two years that Indian gymnasts have started travelling abroad with their eyes on next month’s Games. Since then they have been to five World Series, two World Championships and one long camp abroad.
All these have done a world of good to the Indian gymnasts with the youngsters gaining in confidence after their exposure at the international level.

Three men and a woman broke into top 50 world rankings. Ashish Kumar (world number 31 in the floor exercise and 44th in vaulting table), Partha Mondal (31st in parallel bars, 29th in Roman rings), Rakesh Kumar (35th in Roman rings) and Dipa Karmakar (30th in vaulting table) showed what they are capable of to be among the best.

After the recent good showings at the World Cup in Belgium, the Indian gymnastic contingent was quite positive about their chances in the Commonwealth Games.

“Personally, I am very confident. But the pressure would be more this time as the Games are taking place at home. So, I just want to give my best,” said 20-year-old Ashish Kumar who will lead India’s hopes next month.
The Commonwealth Games will feature 14 events in artistic gymnastics -- eight in men and six in women’s categories -- and Ashish said the team was targeting four gold medals.

“We are aiming to win four gold. We are concentrating on team events more because if we can do well in those categories then the whole side will get medals. Also, individually, we are all working very hard,” said Ashish who is the only Indian to have won a medal at the Asian level.

Ashish said gymnasts from Australia, Canada and Great Britain would pose threat to the country’s chances of winning medals.

“But still I would say that our team is very good,” said the youngster who has recently completed a hat-trick of senior national titles in the All-round Individual Championship.

All is, however, not well in the team. Like other sports, gymnastics preparations for the Games were not without glitches.

Team coach Vladimir Cherktov (Russian-turned-American) was not happy with the build-up to the Games. He had been vocal about the late arrival of equipment as well as delay in moving to the competition venue.

The team, which has been camping in Pune since August 2009, was scheduled to move to Delhi and train from the first week of this month at the very venue where the event is going to take place. Because of delay in completion of the venue, the gymnasts could not move to the Capital. Even the test event was postponed by a month.

The equipment, too, did not arrive on time. The gymnasts had been practising on outdated equipment for a long time before getting new ones.

Ashish also echoed his coach’s views.

“We are most probably going to start practising at the venue from September 24. Although, we wanted to move to Delhi about a month back, but because of the delays in construction we could not. So, we have kind of lost out on the home advantage,” he said.

“But, we can take heart from the fact that we have been practising with the same equipment with which we are going to perform during the Games,” said Ashish, who finished seventh in the Team Championship category at 2006 Melbourne Games.

India will be represented by 19 gymnasts -- seven each in men’s and women’s Artistic category and five in Rhythmic category.