Flips and somersaults- this is what Ashish Kumar’s life is all about. In this new edition of “Indian Heroes”, Sports Rediscovered brings to you the story of India’s first ever medal winner in gymnastics, a sport still in its nascent stages in India.
Born in Allahabad, Ashish Kumar forayed into gymnastics at a young age. With 20 international medals to his name, the 25-year-old took the sporting world by storm with his incredible performance at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, thereby getting his name inducted into the annals of India’s sporting history. Ashish also took a hat-trick at the Senior National Gymnastics championship, winning the All Round Individual Championship in the 48th (Trivandrum, 2008), 49th(Warangal, 2009) and 50th(Erode, 2010) editions. In the South Central Asian Gymnastics Championship, Dhaka, Ashish was adjudged the best male gymnast of the event, claiming four individual gold medals (all-round, floor, vault and hi-bar events) along with a bronze (individual) and a silver (team) medal.
Ashish Kumar’s rise from oblivion:
The 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi saw India take major strides in a sport that doesn’t build a tightly-packed arena in the country. Then 19-years-old, Kumar bagged a Bronze in the men’s floor exercise, bringing home India’s first ever medal in gymnastics. He later went on to win silver in the men’s vault event.
The Gymnastics Federation’s step motherly treatment of the players, and apparent indifference towards the phenomenal feat was blatantly made clear when the officials of the GFI passed snide remarks at Kumar’s chief coach Vladimir Chertokov, asking him, “Is this all that you can deliver, a bronze?” What the high end officials forgot, or chose to ignore, was that the ‘not-so-glittery’ medal was won with just an year’s training, on hard floor and equipments over 20 years old (as said by Chertokov after the win). In the end, it is not the colour of the medal, but rather the effort that has gone into it that counts. What was more appalling, was the GFI’s decision to not send a team for the World Championships in Rotterdam, which was qualifying ground for the 2012 Summer Olympics, citing the low number of players participating (despite countries like Armenia sending just one player).
This selective amnesia, our obsession with the bat and ball, have eclipsed the ‘less fortunate’ games. New territories, however, has found more takers, thanks to people like Ashish Kumar and Dipa Karmakar.
Post Commonwealth glory:
Later on, in the 2010 Asian Games held at Guangzhou, China, he took bronze in floor exercise with a score of 14.925. In the Individual all-around event, Ashish finished 23rd, with a score of 64.750. The only other Indian with a promising result was Dipa Karmarkar, who was placed 8th in the vault event.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games did not prove to be a very productive year for the Allahabadi lad, as he came last in the men’s vault events, with the lowest score (average) of 7.166. After a good show in his first attempt (with a score of 14.333), Kumar faltered in the second go, that resulted in him finishing in the eighth position. In another average performance, he could manage just the sixth position in the men’s floor finals.
However, the tables turned in the International Commonwealth Championships held in Perth, Australia. Ashish took gold in the men’s floor exercise and vault events,which was then followed up by two silver medals in all around men’s artistic gymnastics and parallel bars.
Hope for the future:
While the attitude of the sports authorities, combined with a lack of funds and foreign exposure and failure to work on the historic win, has severely hampered chances of popularising the sport in India, one can only hope that someone or the other becomes enamored with the graceful movements and supple symmetries of gymnastics and decides to walk the extra mile and give to us more athletes like Ashish Kumar.