Apart from our athletes’ perseverance, determination and resilience, it was the expert help from a bunch of foreign coaches and their entourage of support-staff members, from scientific and analytical advisors to physios, masseurs, mental conditioning coaches and psychologists, which helped separate these sportspersons from the also-rans.
These coaches, especially the ones from foreign shores, have brought about a sea-change in both the attitude and performance of our athletes. They have mostly remained unsung but deserve accolades for shaping the careers of these athletes.
Consider this: Gold-medal winning javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s career has been shaped by the late Garry Calvert from Australia and Germany’s legendary Uwe Hohn and Klaus Erich Bartonietz.
The Rani Rampal-led women’s hockey team had Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne to guide them. Not to be left behind, the men’s hockey team has Australian Graham John Reid at the coaching helm.
The bronze-winning Lovlina and the women’s boxing team have Italian Raffaele Bergamasco shoring up their glove skills. Wrestlers Bajrang Punia (Shako Bentinidis), Vinesh Phogat (Akos Woller), Ravi Dahiya (Kamal Malikov) and Deepak Punia (Murad Giadarov), who are ranked among the world’s top five, have all been trained for Tokyo by their personal coaches.
Bronze-winning shuttler Sindhu, the first Indian woman with two individual Olympic medals, has had a slew of foreign coaches in recent times, from Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo to South Koreans Kim Ji Hyun to Park Tae-Sang, who was there with her in Tokyo. In Mirabai Chanu’s case, it was US-based strength and conditioning coach Dr Aaron Horschig whose rehabilitation sessions, to overcome shoulder and lower-back problems, proved crucial for the weightlifter.
In all, 32 foreign support-staff members accompanied 126 athletes across nine disciplines. In comparison, around 50-odd Indian coaches travelled at the government’s cost. The athletics contingent saw the highest number of foreign coaches, seven, followed by six in hockey and four each in badminton and wrestling, among others. Some foreign coaching support staff have travelled on ‘P’ (personal) category accreditation.
In the current sporting ecosystem, India has the highest number of foreign and high-performance directors, an impressive 38 of them. Last year, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) extended the contract of 32 foreign coaches in 11 disciplines till September 30, 2021 to ensure that Tokyo-bound athletes could retain continuity in their training.
With the focus on Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, SAI has decided to draw up four-year contracts for foreign and Indian coaches.
Roping in expert foreign help isn’t exactly a new trend. It started in the 1980s when the athletics federation hired specialists from abroad. The surge, however, came around the 2000 Sydney Olympics when hockey, shooting and weightlifting started seeing merit in foreign expertise.
It’s no secret that the country’s athletes and sports administrators prefer foreign hands over our national coaches for their sheer experience of coaching champion teams, scientific knowledge, tactical and technical acumen, food-supplement awareness and, above all, a disciplined and time-bound approach.
The contracts of these foreign coaches with SAI contain a clause in which they must share their knowledge and impart coaching lessons to Indian counterparts. That’s the reason why their pay brackets range from anywhere between $4,000 and $15,000 per month.