THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Few headline makers would have resisted the wicked temptation of punning with gymnast Ashish Kumar’s name. After his silver and gold medals in the Delhi Commonwealth Games, “High on Ashish” made its routine rounds. This sounded slightly demeaning for someone who has been a sworn teetotaler. But he would care less for fancy word plays.
Suddenly, such headlines vanished. The reason was perhaps more poignant. Ashish has seldom made headlines ever since. Yes, he figured eminently in the pre-tournament build-ups, but not so much as the event unfolded. His returns have been meagre—an eighth place in Glasgow Games and 12th in Incheon seldom warrants headline space. But as much as gripping as the fairytale rise of a gymnast, or for that matter any athlete, from a rustic background is the often neglected story of his fall from grace. Unless you are a decorated athlete, the fall tends to be just a footnote. In Ashish’s case, it was not just about upgrading himself to a higher level, but also not being afforded with the platform for a further leap in his career graph. “See, I have been all alone for the last two years. The national team has no coach, and the coach we had before (Jim Holt), well he has been of little...” he stops abruptly. It could be use, utility, or maybe help. His game, he admits, has plateaued. Injuries didn’t help. He injured his right ankle in the Glasgow CWG qualifying round and aggravated it in Incheon. “Somehow, I got injured at the worst possible time. I was looking very sharp ahead of the CWG but then that injury ruined all my hopes,” he grouses.
But it’s not just about injuries, he emphasises. “Injuries are part and parcel of the game. I’m ready to accept it. But more that I’m dismayed at the lack of opportunities. There have been very few tournaments and hardly any exposure trips. In October, I will be participating in the World Championship in Glasgow. And to prepare for that I have just this National Games,” he asks.
The feuds within the Gymnastics Federation of India, hasn’t helped. To compound his woes, the Sports Ministry de-recognised the GFI in 2012. “The nationals were held in the subsequent years. But the medals didn’t count. Those there was no prize-money an recognition. Gymnastics is an expensive sport and on many occasions I had to spend from my own purse,” he says.
Despite these hurdles, the 24-year-old gymnast from Allahabad hopes to qualify for the Rio Games. “Rio is far away but I’ll keep trying. That’s all I can do. I have never thought of quitting. I am a very religious guy and hopefully something will work out soon.” he wishes. And some playful headline maker would be lurking behind the PC screen, to pounce onto another pun.