Madhya Pradesh reigns supreme

Competition was fierce at the 22nd National Kayaking and Canoeing Championship.-K. MURALI KUMAR

With its bunch of internationals and with the SSCB's participation limited to the Senior men's section, Madhya Pradesh galloped on largely untroubled. Over the course of the meet, MP accumulated 34 gold, 24 silver, and 10 bronze medals, strolling to three of the six team championships on offer. Over to Shreedutta Chidananda.

It was clear after the second of four days of finals at the 22nd National kayaking and canoeing championships in Bangalore that Madhya Pradesh was not going to be waylaid on its march to the summit. With its bunch of internationals and with the SSCB's participation limited to the Senior men's section, the defending overall champion galloped on largely untroubled. Over the course of the meet, MP accumulated 34 gold, 24 silver, and 10 bronze medals, strolling to three of the six team championships on offer. Kerala snapped up the Junior girls' title, Uttarakhand — in an assertion of its growing might — the Junior boys', and the SSCB unsurprisingly the Senior men's.

At the previous edition of the championships, held in Bhopal, the home state had, for the first time in the competition's history (beginning in 1989), finished on top. “It was a combination of performance, hard work from the paddlers and the association, and circumstance,” the head coach Mayank Thakur said on the eve of this year's event. “Of course home advantage also made a difference but we're looking at a similar performance this time too.” By the end of the meet, MP significantly improved on its haul from 2010 (16G, 14S, 10B).

This year, host Karnataka may have managed only fifth place on the medal tally but the source of all of its five gold generated the greatest (and perhaps only) frissons of excitement at the Ulsoor Lake. The 14-year-old Twisha K. Prasad had won two and three medals at the previous two editions, but took the kayaking firmament by storm on her debut in the Senior women's category.

Karnataka's Twisha K. Prasad (left) got the better of Nanao Devi in the Kayaking -1 Women Final event.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Ranged against the much-vaunted Asian Championship bronze-medallist Nanao Devi in the 1000m singles (K-1), the class-nine student won a ruthlessly-fought race by six-hundredths of a second. A length behind at the 500m mark, Twisha clawed her way back — inch by inch it seemed — and the outcome hung on the final stroke. Indeed the result was not immediately known; the jury spent a while reviewing the footage before handing Twisha first place. “I won with the last ounce of my strength,” she panted after the finish. “This is my home town. I had to do it.” Her 23-year-old opponent was not entirely enthused with the verdict. “I thought I'd won but then I was told I hadn't,” the MP paddler frowned. “I do not wish to discuss it further.”

The two met again — in the 5000m singles (K-1) — with similar results. There was little that came in the youngster's way in the Junior and Sub-Junior races though, as she gently pocketed three golds (SJ-200m, 500m; J-500m) to complete a grand quintuple.

The SSCB's James Boy Singh too accomplished five victories, the 22-year-old canoeist winning four or more gold medals for the fifth year in a row. MP's kayaker A. Ching Ching was similarly successful with his haul of four, on the fourth consecutive occasion.

* * * More work needs to be done

The Indian Kayaking and Canoeing Association has for long trumpeted the cause of the sport by attracting attention to its large presence in the Olympics (16 medals) and the Asian Games (35 medals). Despite progress, success in even the latter event would need a few years' work felt Maj. Gen. (retd.) G.P.S. Bindra, Chief Patron of the IKCA. “There has been general improvement, but we need more,” he said. The five medals the Indian contingent had won at the Asian championships in Iran in October needed to be evaluated in context he stressed. “Most of the big Asian countries sent their ‘B' teams. So, I'm not too thrilled. The Asian Games or the Worlds are the real test, and to be honest we were poor in Guangzhou (where the country's best finish was a seventh place).”

A National camp will be held for 80 paddlers, identified on the basis of their performance here, early next year, with the focus on the 2013 Asian championships. But there needed to be other restructuring, Bindra felt. “In our country, we start at the age of 12 or 13, which is simply too late. When I was in Hungary for the Worlds, I saw four-year-olds on little kayaks, paddling with their hands. So already at that age, they understand how to control the kayak and have lost the fear of water. It is an enormous advantage.”

In addition to the SAI's four existing centres for water-sport — Aleppey, Bhopal, Jagatpur (Orissa), and Port Blair — at least two more needed to be opened, he felt. “We need one in Jammu and Kashmir — there are so many natural paddlers there — and another in Manipur.” The second needs little explanation. Close to 40% of the medal-winners at the championships were of Manipuri origin, with most of them turning out in MP's colours. “They train in Bhopal, and have obtained the required NOCs,” Bindra clarified. “Nobody has raised any objection either.”

Bindra also revealed that beginning from next year, the Senior National championships would be split from the Junior and Sub-Junior events. “It is an administrative headache otherwise.”