By Harshikaa Udasi | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 10, 2016
Last month at the 17th Asian Speed Skating Championships in Lishui, China, as the Indian trio of Nikhilesh Tabhane, Vikram Ingale and Dhanish Babu lifted the bronze in two relay categories (Rink 3000m and Road 5000m) elbowing out Iran, Indonesia and Chinese Taipei, one man was silently thanking his parents for putting him on the quads when he was 6 and for pushing him into the sport even though skating was dubbed a ‘no-scope’ sport.
Meet Nikhilesh Tabhane…
Hailed as India’s fastest man on wheels till date, an appellation he had earned when he was only 13, Nikhilesh Tabhane, now 26, has 31 National Golds to his name and Maharashtra’s Highest Sports Award—Shiv Chhatrapati Award 2013 conferred on him, among innumerable others. But he had been eyeing an international medal ever since he had been put on track.
“An international medal was my parents’ dream and it soon became mine. They had the vision to encourage me into a sport that was merely seen as a fun thing to do. There was no seriousness attached to it in the nineties. Equipment was hard to get. When it came, it cost quite a packet. But they managed every single thing. My parents had told me that everyone will want to be in cricket. But we’d rather you get into a sport that’s not got its due and you put it under the spotlight,” says Nikhilesh, content that he has.
Originally from Nagpur, Nikhilesh shifted base to Virar on the outskirts of Mumbai when Virar’s first Mayor, Rajeev Patil built an international standard bank track there. Part of Ameya Classic Club, Nikhilesh’s sponsors, the special bank track started a new trend in the country. The model was then replicated in Pune, Vishakhapatnam, Mysore and several other cities, taking the tally of bank tracks in India to around 15.
“This is what we need. We can’t expect our youngsters to skate on roads or simple tracks and win international accolades. Bank tracks are the closest we can get them to compete internationally. Personally, I feel the more exposure we get to international coaches and international conditions, the better,” he says.
Speaking about international competition, Nikhilesh says that international skaters have an edge over Indians on account of superior technique. “They are not just aggressive, but skating is almost like a heritage passed down their family! Their technique is ace. On the other hand, we have a lot of talent. We are very hard-working. We have solid power. But we lack in technique. If you ask me what makes a great skater, I’d say being super disciplined and being technique-oriented. You have to keep ahead of the competition and that’s why I always focus on training under international coaches too. They guide you on technique,” he emphasises.
With over two decades of skating experience behind him, both at the national as well as international level, Nikhilesh has been training several young aspirants who are keen on making a profession out of skating. “I have always believed that skating holds a lot of promise. Now even more so, as it is the fastest developing sport in India. Look at the growth of bank tracks in the country, the fact that it is now included as a competitive sport at the University level and the twin international medals. I think in the next 3-5 years, the face of skating will completely change. I believe we will internally also have more competitive events to encourage skaters in the field.”
The engineering and MBA (marketing) graduate has also ventured into a clothing line by the name of Sprintt and runs his training academy at 3 locations—Virar, Navi Mumbai and his hometown Nagpur—under the aegis of Nikhilesh Tabhane Skating World. He plans to take this to every part of the country. Besides this, he also holds short term camps in schools and recreational clubs and is the coach for the national level skaters of Surat, Punjab and Rasjathan.
“I have seen that zidd (passion) in youngsters nowadays. For instance, there are so many who have shifted from the interiors of Maharashtra to Virar to train with me. It is difficult to manage your education along with professional skating, and cooperation is difficult to come by. But I always tell all my students to focus on the game. When you are in the moment, you have very little time to prove yourself. So never let go of your chances. And most importantly, try to develop the sport as much as you can. That’s the only way you will reach the skies” signs off Nikhilesh, confident in the tone of his voice, that skating will soon be taken seriously.
(Harshikaa Udasi has worked with top publications across the country for the last 15 years. When not busy with her journalistic pursuits, she runs a book reading club for children called Book Trotters Club. Besides these full-time pursuits, she enjoys observing the two main circuses of our country—Bollywood and politics.)
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