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Indian Army winds up its ‘Mission Olympics’

By Ritu Sharma, IANS,

New Delhi : The Indian Army’s ambitious sports initiative launched three years ago to groom youngsters into potential Olympic medal winners has bitten the dust.

The army’s ‘Mission Olympics – Catch them young’ initiative to hunt for gold, launched in 2005 after Lt. Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal for shooting in the 2004 Olympics, is to close down following orders from the top.

The orders given by the Indian Army have shattered the Olympic dreams of 23 sportspersons who have been training under the army’s programme.

“Orders were given for closing down the programme last month (March) as it failed to yield results,” a senior army official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The army pumped in nearly Rs.5 crore/Rs.50 million into the project and an Army Sports Institute was set up in Pune to nurture the Indian dream of making a mark in the international sports arena.

The three-phased programme was targeted to see a steady flow of talent from 2010 onwards in four different sport disciplines.

“Through the programme, the army aims to achieve respectable levels in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, then focus on doing well in the Olympic Games and finally create a steady flow of talent to win medals for the country at the Olympics,” an official associated with the programme said.

Under the mission, children in the age group 14-16 are trained to excel in shooting, archery, wrestling and equestrian events. Veteran sportsmen Milkha Singh, Sriram Singh and G.S. Randhawa were taken on board as consultants.

The army selected young boys and girls and took care of their education, food, lodging, coaching in their respective sports, specialized equipments and also the travel and participation expenses.

The programme has produced very good results – every trainee qualified for the nationals. Abhilasha Joshi, of the shooting team, defeated international shooter Anjali Bhagwat and the team stood third in the 2008 January national shooting championships. Another extraordinary talent is Kulwinder Singh, who won the national junior championships in 2008 in the 24 metre rapid fire.

It is reliably understood that the programme was scuttled because of strained relations between the current army chief General Deepak Kapoor and former chief General (retd) J.J. Singh, whose brainchild the project was. Both men were not available for comment.

Former sportspersons feel that the time limit set for the programme to yield results is too little and more time and dedication is needed to shape a player.

“A minimum of 10 years is required if you are looking at the Olympics and start grooming a person from the age of 11-12 years,” Vimal Kumar, former national level badminton player and now coach, told IANS.