Avtar Singh buoyant as Rio beckons

I didn’t expect this (qualifying for the Rio Games). It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. I know I train hard and I give my 100 per cent. I have promised to do well for my country and I just want to give my best," says Avtar Singh, the first Indian judoka since Athens 2004 to qualify for the Olympics.

Avtar Singh (right) completed a ten-day training with veteran judoka Cawas Billimoria.   -  JSW Sports

Avtar Singh became the first Indian judoka since Athens 2004 to qualify for the Olympics. However, he is not nervous about doing well on the biggest stage of sports.

“I was playing football with my friends this morning and I even scored a goal,” said Avtar, 24, with a laugh. Messi is his favourite footballer.

“I didn’t expect this (qualifying for Olympics). It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. I know I train hard and I give my 100 per cent. I have promised to do well for my country and I just want to give my best,” he said.

On Monday, the International Judo Federation (IJF) communicated Avtar's qualification to the Judo Federation of India (JFI). He is one of the two Asian judokas in the 90 kg category to bag a continental quota for the Rio Games.

Avtar was not merely being modest when he said, “I didn’t expect this.” Since 2015, he has participated in only six international events. He lacked support, financially and organisationally.

His parents liquidated all their fixed-deposits to book Avtar’s tickets to the Samsun Grand Prix in Turkey in April. The Judo Federation of India (JFI), which was recently derecognised over its non-compliance of the National Sports Development Code, was not of much help.

“It was so much difficult (to qualify for the Olympics). Sometimes, the Federation (JFI) supports me and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Avtar, an assistant sub-inspector with the Punjab Police.

Those who supported Avtar and helped him realise his dream were JSW Sports; Duvinder Singh, an inspector with the Punjab Police; a few others in the department; his coach Yashpal Solanki; his parents, Shingara Singh and Sukhwinder Kaur and some local coaches in his hometown, Gurdaspur.

Gurdaspur, according to Avtar, has a judo culture as good as that of Japan, where the sport was born. “Many follow judo in my town. Parents encourage their children to take up judo as it would fetch them jobs in the police department,” he said.

Avtar started practising judo because it was the most popular sport in his town. Gurdaspur has close to 30 judo clubs. A local coach, a friend of Shingara, invited Avtar to practise in his club. That is how he got into judo. “Ever since, I have gotten better at it. In the 1980s, hockey used to be the most popular sport here; now it’s judo,” he said.

Avtar’s father encouraged him to practise the sport. “He gave me the freedom to do what I wanted to. But he told me to be positive about whatever I do,” he said.

The legendary Indian athlete, Milkha Singh, is his role model and Avtar wants to emulate him in making his country proud. Time will tell if he will.