By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 28, 2016
When I met him almost 13 years ago, after India returned from back-to-back tournament wins in Hamburg and Australia, he displayed that passion and fire which was much-needed in Indian sports. “We have to learn to be ruthless,” he had said then.
Meet the still fiery Viren Rasquinha, former Indian Hockey captain, Olympian and Arjuna Awardee for Hockey for the year 2005, who is currently, the CEO of Olympic Gold Quest. Today, OGQ is synonymous with names like Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal an Yogeshwar Dutt, to name just a few. And there are a few youngsters that India will see shine in the 2020, 2024 and 2028 Olympics, God willing.
Who can forget P V Sindhu, the badminton champion who became a toast of the nation at the Rio Olympics? “OGC started supporting P V Sindhu when she was 14 years old. She has had a seven-year journey with us. We place great emphasis on the selection process because it takes a long time to produce results,” reveals Viren with a smile that lights up his face.
Opening Doorz caught up with Viren to understand more about OGQ, their selection process and their future plans.
What is more satisfying, churning out Olympic champions or playing in an Olympics?
Surely, playing is the most satisfying and an emotional experience. I love sports and for me, the next best thing after playing is helping the next generation of athletes do well.
Olympic Gold Quest are very passionate and driven when it comes to picking talent and training them. Can you tell us how the team goes about in identifying talent?
At OGQ we are very processed driven. We have a Research Head and a Research Team working under him that scouts for the best talent from across the country. We have eight priority sports: Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Shooting, Athletics, Archery, Swimming and Table Tennis.
In these sports, we are constantly looking at State Level and National Level tournaments to pick up the best young, raw talent. It goes through a very comprehensive and robust selection process. Currently, in the 11-19 years age group, we have about 45 youngsters who have shown immense promise who are training for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. The remaining 35 would be in the age group of 20 years and above who would be preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We research and observe them for six months to a year before we decide to take them on board.
Do parents or the athletes approach OGC, or is it the other way round?
In 95 per cent of the cases, we research and pick talent. People do approach us, people do recommend, but even then, the recommended athletes have to go through the same rigour in the selection process.
How many athletes does OGQ support as of now?
Currently, OGC supports 80 athletes and over the past seven years we have supported 110 athletes. Out of these, we have dropped almost 30. We place emphasis on the weeding out process as well. Our aim is to help Indian athletes win medals. Along the way, if we find that the athletes selected are not matching up to the desired standards we have no choice but to drop them.
Having said that, before we take that decision, we do everything possible to help them improve, but if the performance is stagnating, we have to weed out. It is a clear message sent out to everyone: you cannot take the support for granted. There are many deserving athletes knocking on the doors.
So far, which is the talent OGC have backed and are hoping to see shine in the future?
It’s very hard to predict who will do well in four years. All the athletes we support, we believe will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For eg: Mary Kom and Yogeshwar Dutt both won the Bronze Medal in the London Olympics four years ago. Mary did not qualify for Rio and Yogeshwar lost in the first round. We are training everyone of them with a goal to win a medal at the Olympics.
Coming to the recently-concluded Rio Olympics, what were your expectations, honestly?
We were expecting India to win around 5-6 medals. The return of two medals is definitely a below-par performance. We need to introspect deeply as to what went wrong; why the athletes did not perform to their potential. We are in the process of doing that. We at OGQ also have to improve on our own performance as an organization.
Not many would find fault with themselves as an organization, but the fact that you are saying OGQ has also introspected shows your commitment.
We have to take a significant responsibility; it is our job to help the athletes. We don’t blame anyone; we are here to try our best. We have deeply introspected and we have identified areas where we have to improve our performances. Better use of Sports science and closer monitoring would be priority areas for us, going forward.
Personally, was Sindhu’s rise a surprise to you, or were you expecting a medal from her?
Sindhu had already won two World Championship medals before this, so it was not a surprise as such. But at the Olympics, you cannot predict what will happen. OGQ has been supporting Sindhu since she was 14 years old, we are all aware of her talent, temperament and skill set. What was awesome was that she brought it all together when it mattered, under huge pressure of expectation.
Ok, let’s get back to the emotions: A medal guaranteed after her semi-final win, and then that terrific final. What were your emotions after the silver?
I was very, very proud of her. It was an emotional experience when she was on the podium to see the Indian flag flying. I was standing just five meters behind her. For me, that is what makes it worth all the effort: to see an Indian athlete on the podium and the Indian flag flying. It took seven long years with Sindhu to see that moment. I was proud of Sindhu because she had given her all; that’s the most you can expect from a player—to give it all on the court.
Vinesh Phogat was also on her way to a wrestling medal when her journey was cut short by a knee injury during her bout against Sun Yanan of China in the quarter-finals. What was the mood in the Indian camp?
I wasn’t there during that match but all I can say is that these things happen in sports, especially in a sport like wrestling. Injuries are part and parcel in sports and athletes have to learn to deal with it and learn to come back stronger. It was very unfortunate that it happened to Vinesh at the Olympics. But the good thing that she is still very young and will get better from this experience.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction as the CEO of OGQ?
The greatest satisfaction for me is just to be a part of the journey. In India, most people only see the end result. But for an Olympic athlete, the important part is the journey every single day. For me, champions are not made when billions are watching; they are made when no one is watching! To witness this journey makes me the happiest.
What are the future plans at OGQ?
We have plans to widen our talent pool at the sub-junior level in the age group of 11-16 years. We hope that more and more organizations will support OGQ through CSR and donations so that we can extend our support to many young athletes and give them an opportunity to excel.