Cricket rules India’s sporting imagination, and Ahmedabad is no exception. What is surprising, however, is the popularity of skating in this city. Visit a sports complex and you find as many patrons for skating academies as for cricket camps. Not known for its sporting culture, Ahmedabad has been consistently producing national champions in inline speed skating and artistic skating over the last decade.
Says Rajendra Sinh Jadeja. who heads Krishna Academy that trains 1,500 skaters a year in Ahmedabad, “It began in the early 1970s when artistic skater Ranjit Bist, who worked for ONGC, was posted in Ahmedabad. Being a champion skater, Bist began to encourage children to take the sport. Thanks to his efforts and the support of sports enthusiasts, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation built a roller skating rink at Sardar Patel Stadium in the early-1970s.” Skating caught the attention of Ahmedabad, and the rink was soon crowded with children who came to learn how to roller skate. By 1974, artistic skaters like Kiran Desai, Krishna Jadeja, Smita Sheth began to win at nationals, and another rink was commissioned at Pritamnagar in 1981. In 1988, Ahmedabad’s Naman Parekh received the Arjuna Award for winning a medal in the Asian Skating Championship. In the 1980s, Gujarat started doing well in speed skating as well.
“Today, Ahmedabad has good coaches, three skating velodromes with banked tracks, many rinks, and most of the big schools offer skating as a sport,” says Jyotika Desai, an artistic skating coach. “The high level of skaters in the city make role models for children coaching under me, Rahul Rana, Jadeja, and other former champions. Children are excited watching races between speed skaters hurtling at 35-55 kmph over banked tracks, or the grace of the artistic skaters, and take to the sport. And we end up catching them young.”
Agrees Kanika Bhalla, who represented India in speed skating at the Guangzhou Asian Games 2010, “I was just five when my mother enrolled me for skating classes and Rajendrasinh Jadeja’s encouragement led to my first national gold in the under-6 category at Chandigadh in 1999. Since then, I have won 38 national and six international medals, including two bronzes in rink and road relay respectively, at the Asian Roller Skating Championship, Taiwan, where there was tough competition from Koreans, Iranians and Japanese.”
Like Bhalla, Aashna Rajan Shah represented India in artistic skating at the Guangzhou Asian Games. She started skating at four. “Jyotika Desai was impressed by my balance, precision and artistry, and encouraged me to pursue artistic skating. Till now, I have won 13 golds, 2 silvers and 3 bronzes at the nationals, and 10 golds at the National School Games.” But, she says her most exciting win was the gold at the Asian Championship in Pair Skating in Taiwan in 2006, competing against stronger, older and more experienced players.
While Aashna is happy with the interest being taken by the state government to promote sports in the last decade, she feels bigger rinks are needed for figure and free-style skating. “Roller sports equipment is expensive, and government and corporate support would help encourage us to match international standards,” she says. Kanika also feels the government needs to incentivise teenage athletes to pursue their sport without worrying about admissions to schools and colleges. “Sports quotas at science, engineering and medical colleges for those who participate in national or international events are necessary for Gujarat to become a sports power,” she says.