Thiruvananthapuram: Ravaged by injuries and left to fend for himself without a coach for three years now, India's first-ever gymnast to win Commonwealth and Asian Games medals, Ashish Kumar gets angry the moment anyone talks about expectations with him.
He feels the country's system simply fails talent at every step.
Here to compete in the ongoing 35th National Games, Ashish was the overwhelming favourite for an all round individual gold but settled for a silver.
Ask him about not performing as expected, the 24-year-old interestingly bursts out laughing while talking about the anger he feels at such queries.
"I am training without a coach for three years. I have been hampered by injuries in the worst possible times, including just ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In fact, I suffered a heel injury just before coming here but still decided to compete. Under these circumstances I got a silver and people talk about expectations. Am I not supposed to feel angry?" asked the Allahabad boy in an interview with PTI.
"I was advised bed rest for 15-20 days just before the National Games but I thought we don't get many competitions, either at home or abroad, in any case, so skipping the National Games would have meant another missed opportunity.I didn't want that," he said explaining his reasons for turning up at an event which has been given a miss by the top athletes of several other sports.
Ashish rose from obscurity with his bronze (floor exercise) and silver (vault) medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. He followed it up with a bronze (floor exercise) in the Asian Games that same year but it all went downhill soon after due to injury breakdowns and the lack of a coach to train with.
"Can it get any worse? There is no coach to improve us and how can any athlete give good results without a good coach to improve his skills. The federation officials are busy bickering with each other. Nobody cares what happens to the sport. I, as an athlete, only want a round-the-year national camp but that has also not been done. Like badminton, gymnastics has a year-long calendar and that helps rankings and preparations for the big events like Worlds or Olympics. We hardly get to compete in them," Ashish explained.
"Here at the National Games, I lowered my dificulty level because I knew I could not take the strain and still managed a silver. Had I given my all here I would have aggravated my injury. I have to be in good shape for the World Championships this year," he said.
Recalling his Commonwealth Games performance, Ashish said it was a result of just one year of good preparation under a good coach.
"If we get such training and support all the time, I can assure you that results would be there. We can have at least four to five international medals in gymnastics every year. All that is needed is a round-the-year national camp and a good coach, that's all. Wouldn't anybody feel angry if such basic things cannot be provided?" he said.
On whether he has thought of ever approaching the Sports Ministry or the Sports Authority of India with his requests, Ashish said, "Doing that would mean, seeking appointments, then waiting for those appointments to be granted. I don't think any athlete would have the time or patience to go through this but yes, if I am approached for suggestions, I would not hesitate."
"India has the talent to do well but nothing can happen unless at least a basic support structure is in place to back this talent," he added, highlighting the well-known but least addressed bane of Indian sports.