Going on a Gold hunt

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on March 10, 2018

Passing the Baton (From left) Prakash Padukone, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and Geet Sethi at a recent Olympic Gold Quest event in Mumbai   -  PTI

How a professional team of stars of yesteryear is moulding tomorrow’s champions

All it requires is 6 g of gold. To induce that heady feeling when an athlete stands on the victory podium, the name flashing on the giant-sized screen, with the national anthem being played.

Knowing full well that over a billion people at home will be cheering and sharing the happiness and joy at having triumphed in the ultimate sporting event: the Olympics. Yes, a gold medal at the Olympics has 6 g of gold in it. That’s all it takes to lift the worth of a nation.

And this is what Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), a not-for-profit organisation started and run by former sportsmen, aims to do: identify and train athletes to increase India’s medal tally at the Olympics and bring home that gold medal.

OGQ is the brainchild of former world billiards champion Geet Sethi, who after the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, realised that professional micro-management of athletes was needed if they were to perform well on the international arena. He discussed the idea with Prakash Padukone, former All England badminton champion, who too felt the need for an organisation that would not just identify and train athletes, but provide them all the support that they need on their journey to sporting success.

How the idea took off

OGQ took off when Sethi and Padukone brought on board executives from the corporate world such as Niraj Bajaj, Shitin Desai and R Ramaraj, who helped the organisation raise the much-needed funds to support the athletes. “In 2007, finally, we got in some corporate board members and with the funding they could manage to provide, we launched our operations, if I can call it that,” recalls Sethi. Rifle shooter Gagan Narang was the first athlete that OGQ took on board, just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he adds.

Of the six medals that India won at the 2012 London Olympics, four – Vijay Kumar (Silver, pistol shooting), Gagan Narang – (Bronze, rifle shooting), MC Mary Kom (Bronze, boxing) and Saina Nehwal (Bronze, badminton) – were supported by OGQ.

For the Rio Olympics, OGQ has 21 athletes in badminton, boxing, shooting, athletics, archery and wrestling as part of the Indian contingent. Besides it is also training sportspersons in table tennis and swimming.

What exactly does OGQ do? Viren Rasquinha, CEO, says it provides sportspersons with coaches, the best training facilities, doctors, nutritionists and physiotherapists. “We make sure they have the equipment. We have put together a team of world-class doctors, physios, nutritionists and mental trainers,” adds Rasquinha, a former India hockey player, who went on to do an MBA at ISB after retiring from the game.

Monitoring performance

OGQ, according to him, has a research team that looks closely into the performances of athletes.

“The bottomline is, when we select them, they should have genuine potential to win an Olympic medal,” he says. OGQ monitors sub-junior and junior level national tournaments. It identifies athletes who show potential and takes them in for training and support if it feels it can make a difference to their performance.

“We support them for the long term, because the journey to win an Olympic medal takes at least six to eight years,” adds Rasquinha.

Once the athletes are selected, OGQ signs individual contracts with them. No money is paid to them, other than a small stipend – and that too only for those who need it badly. OGQ commits a certain funding for each athlete, depending on the sport, seniority of the athlete, equipment required and the level of foreign exposure that is needed.

The biggest factor for OGQ, he adds, is that it builds a close relationship, trust and rapport with the athlete. “Only if you build the trust do they open up to you and share their problems. That is critical. That is a big factor in the way OGQ supports athletes,” says Rasquinha.

He says it will not be possible to put a figure to how much it will cost to train an athlete as it varies from sport to sport and the level of training and assistance required. It started supporting Lakshya Sen, when he was just 11 years old, in badminton, and also supports 15-year-old Maana Patel for swimming.

OGQ raises funds from donors, who can get income-tax exemption. Companies can now also donate to OGQ as part of their CSR activity, adds Rasquinha.

The training module

How is the training done in other countries? With the weight of international exposure that Sethi has, he says that different countries have different models. In the US, the university model – where athletes get scholarships and are supported in other ways – is strong, he notes. It is almost similar in Australia. In the UK, however, it is mostly government-run.

“India,” says Sethi, “is unique. We are a young country, we are grappling with so many issues.” He adds: “Wherever I can add value, why not I add value as an NGO? I am saying I add value if the athlete can fulfil his or her potential.” He says the government has done a lot for athletes and sportspersons. Its mindset has changed over the years. “Money has gone into sports, money has gone into sportspersons.”

According to him, what OGQ does best is to professionally micro-manage an athlete and removing any hindrance in his or her path. OGQ’s role and ethos is to plug a gap wherever it can.

What are his expectations of the Indian contingent from the Rio Olympics? Says Sethi: “I hope we can better our performance. I think we will. If you study our chart, it is an upward growth. The one big thing that has changed is that we believe we can win. The athlete genuinely believes he or she is a winner. That has a lot of value and that will finally translate into more medals. I don’t want to put a number, but I think we will improve on our tally from London.”

Published on August 05, 2016

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