As a kid growing up in the early 90’s, the only sport that you followed was Cricket and so did a million kids like me. We all aspired to be the next Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble or in my case Allan Donald. The secret aspiration was actually to be like Wasim Akram because I was a Left arm bowler but there was no way I was going to acknowledge fan following for a Pakistani Player! I pursued the sport till university after which parental advice and peer pressure worked their magic.
Back then the only other sport that had some sort of relevance was Tennis, and it was a relatively expensive sport to learn. Many kids with memberships in good clubs would take up Tennis and follow their passion and aspire to be Leander Paes. His bronze win in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 changed things for many young kids. It showed that Indian Sports had the potential of going places and we could excel at individual sports and not team sports alone. Before Cricket it was Hockey, so India always had a strong heritage and success stories in Team Sports. But Leander Paes’s win changed things for individual sports and pursuit of excellence in them.
Individual Sports is actually a pretty lonely journey because you are all alone on the field battling it out, and giving it your all in winning the next game, set and match. Cycling is an individual sport most of times unless you are competing at the grand Tours and are part of a phenomenal team like ORICA SCOTT.
In many ways what is happening today in the sport of competitive cycling in India is similar to what one would imagine the case in Tennis back in the 70’s with the Amritraj Brothers and Ramanathan Krishnan waging a pretty lonely battle to follow their dream. But their passion and discipline got them the accolades on an International Stage. Cyclists like Naveen John, Kiran Kumar Raju, Piyush Chavan and Lokesh Narasamichar are cyclists who are following their dream despite the fact that the sport of Cycling is not a financially lucrative sport today in India. The race calendar is pretty much absent and coaching methods are still a decade behind the Asian standards. But this does not deter them, and many like them pursue their goals with single minded focus. We’ve also seen them hustling most times to ensure that they participate in the races they so want to.
Many of the above mentioned cyclists I have had the pleasure of knowing and interacting on a one on one basis and I respect them for having the conviction to follow their passion, something which I personally did not have back in the day for Cricket which I gave up in exchange for a white collared job. The speed bumps and head winds these guys face is phenomenal and in a way their struggles and stories are one of the main reasons that gave birth to the SCOTT Athlete Program meant for aspiring cyclists. We started this program 3 years back and today support 15 cyclists and triathletes in the country. It has been a rewarding and a learning experience for all of us at SCOTT India.
Along the way we have come across some phenomenal athletes who excel in their respective disciplines, work with them to address their concerns and motivate them to compete and give it their best. With the Help of Coach Nigel Smith we are today able to provide our cyclists the best standard of Coaching, pretty much the same school of coaching that gave birth to Froome, Wiggins and the Yates Brothers. The athletes have access to equipment from SCOTT which other athletes who are not part of the program aspire for and which today powers many of the pro athletes and WC and Olympic winners.
I think also the athletes who are a part of the program have a responsibility not only towards their own goals but also to ensure that they take the maximum out of this support structure that has been provided to them, and that is to compete and keep racing and not blame the lack of infrastructure around them for not competing and racing enough. Keep in mind those in the program who do not keep their end of the bargain, also are taking up a spot for a deserving candidate who could have definitely made more out of the same resources provided to him.
We have a finite budget for this program on an annual basis and continue supporting athletes who are following their dream and are committed to their sport like no other. We have also made the mistake of sometimes supporting social media warriors masquerading as athletes but one learns and moves on from such experiences and cyclists.
As we learn from each experience, our commitment to find the next world class athlete and support and fuel his or her dreams will continue with even more vigour and hopefully a bigger budget every year. Each year we come across some fascinating stories of athletes and the commitment shown by them to follow their choice of sport and this gives wings to the SCOTT Athlete Program. We will continue to run this program as a long term program for ensuring that our search for the next Froome, Cavendish and Chavez form India is achieved.
PS: As I write this article, our 1st Athlete on the SCOTT Program, Piyush has signed another 3-year extension on his contract and has just represented India at the Asian Championships. Our best wishes with him to keep achieving more! Keep shredding Piyush and hurtling towards all the success that you deserve. Coach Nigel thank you for all the phenomenal support.
COUNTRY MANAGER, SCOTT SPORTS INDIA