Against all odds

Peerless... Haryana's Inderjeet Singh broke the long-standing shot put meet record at the 55th National Inter-State Athletics Championship at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai.-R.RAGU

Inderjeet Singh has been in fine form this season. The shot putter has already won five gold medals in the international circuit in 2015. Inderjeet, in this conversation with K. Keerthivasan, reveals his big plans for Rio 2016 and expresses his disappointment towards continued government apathy.

Shot putter Inderjeet Singh, the first Indian athlete to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, has set his sights on wining a medal at the quadrennial event. The 27-year-old, however, is dissatisfied with the way athletics is run in this country. He is hurt by the lack of recognition and financial support — despite his stellar performance in the international circuit — from the central, state governments and the corporate world.

Inderjeet has been in fine form this season, pocketing gold medals at the Asian Championship in Wuhan (China), World University Games in Gwangju (South Korea) and also three more in the Asian Grand Prix series in Bangkok, Panthumthani and Chanthabur (Thailand). After winning his eighth successive gold medal — the streak had started from the National Games in Kerala in February, followed by another at the Federation Cup in Mangalore in May and international success — at the 55th National inter-state athletics meet in Chennai, he said: “I have done everything I can do, but the system is not working.”

The burly athlete spoke about his goals and the immediate need to improve infrastructure in the country over a long telephonic conversation with Sportstar.

Question: Winning the gold medal at the World University Games must have been special?

Answer: I was confident of winning it as I had worked hard to achieve it. The conditions there were not the best as it was raining. But I was determined and I’m happy with my performance. But still there has been no recognition from the government; nobody came to receive us (at the airport). This is not the way to treat a medal-winning athlete.

Your throw of 20.44m at the 55th National inter-state athletics championship set a new meet record. Are you satisfied with that mark?

It was a hectic few days. I left Korea on July 8 (after the World University Games) and arrived in Chennai on July 13. There was a huge difference in weather: hot and humid in Chennai and cold in Korea. It was not easy, but I still did well to the win the gold medal. It is doubly satisfying that I was able to break the record of my idol Shakti Singh.

A proud moment... Inderjeet Singh rates his Asian Games bronze medal-winning performance in Incheon, South Korea really high.-PTI

You achieved the qualification marks for the World Championship (August 2015) and the 2016 Rio Olympics with your effort of 20.65 in Mangalore. Can you reflect on that experience?

It was not easy. I had boils on my knee. It was painful. Otherwise, I could have crossed the 21m mark. But thankfully I was able to achieve the qualification marks.

Winning the Asian Championship gold medal (20.41m) in Wuhan must have been one of the high points of your career?

There too, I was suffering from boils on my knee. But I was confident of doing well. In competitions, you get stiff (because of the waiting time between throws) and hence don’t perform at your best. You have to switch on during crucial moments. I finally learnt the art of switching on in Wuhan.

Who will be your main competitors at the Worlds and in Rio?

I am not preparing for Worlds. There is very little time before the meet (August 22 to 30 2015). All my efforts are concentrated towards Rio. I am not looking at competitors, but aiming to do my best.

Do you want to dedicate your gold medals to anyone?

Only to my family and well-wishers!

You have always spoken about the lack of support from the central and state governments. Has things changed for the better?

Shakti Singh (left), with his brother and coach Pritam Singh, after winning the shot put gold medal at the AFRO-ASIAN games in Hyderabad in 2003. "My first idol is Shakti Singh," Inderjeet, who is coached by Pritam, said.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Nothing has changed. I have no job. The central and state governments have not given me any financial support. Athletes are suffering because of the indifference of the system. It is not working. I am not speaking just for myself, but for all my fellow athletes. There was no crowd at the National inter-state meet in Chennai. Why can’t the administrators bring in school students to watch the meet? A cheering crowd always motivates an athlete to do better. Stalwarts like Milkha Singh and P. T. Usha, who understand the suffering of athletes, should find a place in the Athletics Federation of India.

Who have been your inspirations?

I follow Randy Barnes, the world record holder in shot put. But my first idol is Shakti Singh, whose brother Pritam Singh is my coach now.

Why Shakti Singh?

He has undoubtedly been the best in the business (in India). He was the first Indian to achieve the 20m mark. He won many medals at the Asian level, including a gold medal at the Asian Championships in Jakarta (2000) and a silver medal at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998. He was ranked in the top-10 in the world in both shot put and discus. But still not many know about him, there are no video clippings available of his achievements. It is a tragedy and even the media is to be blamed. It has a responsibility to help popularise the sport and highlight the achievements of the athletes.

The Asian Games bronze medal and the Asian Championship gold medal… Which was tougher to achieve and hence more satisfying?

The Asian Games in Incheon was tougher. There was more pressure. It was raining. Normally I don’t pressurise myself, but it was the Asian Games.

Are you planning to train abroad ahead of next year’s Olympics?

I might go to USA for training. But nothing is confirmed.