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'My dream is to help OGQ athletes get the best of everything'

Last updated on: December 1, 2011 21:25 IST

Rasquinha's commitment to OGQ is unmatched

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India are perennial under-achievers when it comes to sport. A country with a population of nearly 1.2 billion has struggled to produce champions on big stages like the Olympics despite a blooming economy and huge population base.

For an athlete to make it big in individual sports, it seems nearly impossible with the lack of infrastructure and funds, especially in rural areas. Abhinav Bindra is the first Indian win an Olympic gold medal, in the last edition of the Games in Beijing in 2008. But hailing from a rich family, the ace shooter had all the resources at his disposal, including a shooting range in his backyard.

An Indian athlete has to literally beg, borrow or steal, and most of the times fight the system or association, in quest to become the next big star.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here

But hope has arrived in the form of the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), which is grooming and training Indian athletes to win Olympic gold medals. The organisation was founded by India's sporting legends Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi in 2006, with the vision of producing Olympic champions.

India's former hockey star Viren Rasquinha took over as the Chief Operating Officer at OGQ in 2008 and since then the organisation is sprinting towards its dream of winning gold medals.

The first step of the dream has been achieved already, with 10 OGQ athletes having qualified for the London Games. Rasquinha believes another 10 can make the cut. It is not only the Olympic-bound athletes who the OGQ supports, but also youngsters at the grassroot level, who have shown the potential to make it big in the future.

Rasquinha's commitment to OGQ is unmatched and he personally keeps track of every activity, ranging from funding to training of athletes or tracking coaches or arranging for equipment.

Harish Kotian caught up with the former India hockey captain in a rare free moment at his residence in Bandra to discuss OGQ's vision, the mode of operation and why he is so passionate about creating India's next Olympic champion.


Image: Viren Rasquinha
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
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'I like working directly with the players'

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You have been working as Chief Operating Officer with Olympic Gold Quest for more than two years now. Can you explain what your role involves?

It is a small organisation and our full-time working team is just five employees. My role is really a bit of everything; I am everything from the peon to the president. I do everything from fund-raising to player management in terms of what can be done to improve their performances. I liaison a lot with the players to figure out how we can improve their performance, what kind of support we can provide them at a faster pace.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here

My two key goals are the fund-raising part and helping the players improve their performances, because at the end of the day the mission of the Olympic Gold Quest is to win Olympic gold medals. That is our key focus area and that is where my area of expertise lies. That is what I like, working directly with the players and finding out how to improve their performance.


Image: Viren Rasquinha (centre) with Indian boxer Devendro Singh (right) and physio Hari

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10 OGQ athletes have already qualified for London Olympics

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Since taking over as COO, are you happy with the way the organisation has shaped with regard to grooming athletes to be future World or Olympic champions?

Of course, I am very happy with everything. The reason I joined the Olympic Gold Quest in the first place was because of the team that was already onboard in terms of the board of directors. Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone are the founders of Olympic Gold Quest and they are two of the most legendary and credible sportsperson in India; to get an opportunity to work with them is just fantastic.

We also have Leander Paes and Viswanathan Anand on the board of directors; again two fabulous sportsperson who need absolutely no introduction. Even on the corporate side there is Shitin Desai, Neeraj Bharadwaj, R Ramraj, Rakesh Khanna and Neeraj Bajaj. It is a fantastic team to be working with.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here

I am very happy because when we started two-and-half years ago we had just two or three athletes. But, today, Olympic Gold Quest is looking after the training and preparation of 32 athletes who are trying to make it to the 2012 Olympics. We already have 10 athletes who have qualified for the London Olympics, and if things go well then we might have 10 more athletes qualifying for the Games. But I am sure that we will have at least 15 athletes going to the Olympics next year. The rest of the athletes are all young athletes whom we are grooming for 2016 and 2020 Games.
 
The other thing I am very happy about is that we have put up very stringent merit-based processes in place for the selection of our OGQ athletes; so that has been streamlined and has been well-taken care of. The funding has improved and even the awareness of OGQ has improved much more.

Another major factor, which I feel has been a big factor in the success of OGQ so far, is the ability of OGQ to work very closely within the system. We work closely with the national sports federation, with the government and the Sports Ministry. We are not a parallel body and that is something we are proud of, because we are not fighting with the system, but working with it.


Image: (Left to right): Viren Rasquinha, Niraj Bajaj, Prakash Padukone, Leander Paes and Geet Sethi

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'The support we give the athletes differs from sport to sport'

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You said you are targeting around 20 OGQ athletes qualifying for the London Olympics. What's the support in terms of preparing them for the mega-event that OGQ will provide them?

The kind of support we give the athletes differs from sport to sport; it differs from athlete to athlete. For example, in a sport like shooting, for some shooters equipment in terms of their weapons and ammunition is very important; for some shooters, the mental training part is very important. So we really have to identify the area where the athlete needs the support the most and that is what we really do to help.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here

Like for MC Mary Kom in boxing, where the athlete gets injured from time to time and there are lots of aches and pain all the time due to the nature of the sport, we have a lady physiotherapist who is with Mary all the time. The main head of our sports medicine team Dr Nikhil Latey, who is a fabulous sport scientist and physiotherapist, travels with Mary almost all the time. So we ensure that her needs are taken care of all the time.


Image: (Left to right): Viren Rasquinha with Niraj Bajaj, MC Mary Kom, Prakash Padukone and Gagan Narang

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'I am constantly travelling to all the training venues'

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How do you keep track of the preparation of your athletes and coaches across various disciplines and across the country?

First of all, I have got a very good research team, which is constantly tracking the performances of all the athletes in various competitions. I travel almost 20 days in a month -- I am constantly travelling to all the training venues. I feel that it is very important for me to be involved in the training aspect even more than the competitions because the hard work is actually done at the training camp. And that is where you find out the problems and the challenges that the athlete is facing. So I travel to Patiala, where the men boxers train; to Bhopal, where the women boxers train.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here

Then, we also support the PT Usha School of Athletics in Kozhikode. All our five badminton players currently train at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad; our archers are training in Kolkata. So I travel a lot to the camps and interact with the coaches and athletes and try to figure out where the gaps are currently and how OGQ can fill in the gaps quickly and make an impact.


Image: Viren Rasquinha at the PT Usha School of Athletics

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'Saina is too good a player to lose out for long'

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How do you motivate your athletes when they are going through a bad run? For instance, Saina Nehwal has struggled in 2011. How do you ensure that Saina, who is one of the top badminton players in the world, returns back to her best form ahead of the Olympics?

This is an excellent question. Probably the big part that helps in this case is that I have been there myself as a player and I know for a fact that even the top players in the world will go through a sustained bad patch at some point in their career. The key thing in this case is to be positive, to have belief in yourself and third never let the work ethic dwindle.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here
 
I think Saina is too good a player to really get too worried about a bad patch or form. Yes, this year she has been going through a tough time and it is easy to lose faith quickly, but we know we just need to work hard. She is losing a lot of close matches right now, but the good news is that she has stayed positive and she does not have any major injuries at the moment.

Probably, she is not as sharp as she was last year in terms of her fitness, and that is where she losing out a bit. We are trying to do everything possible in the background to ensure that mentally she prepares well for a tournament and stays positive. And, I said, she is too good a player to lose out for long.


Image: Viren Rasquinha with Saina Nehwal

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'For me it was a dream to win an Olympic medal'

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You were one of the leading hockey players in your time, but never came close to winning an Olympic medal. So, for you personally, how important is it that the OGQ athletes succeed and win medals at the Olympics?

For me it was a dream to win an Olympic medal. I played at the Athens Olympics in 2004, where India came seventh. So, for me, the dream to win the Olympic medal continues through Olympic Gold Quest, and I am thankful to Geet Sethi, Prakash Padukone and the board of OGQ for giving me the opportunity to let me live my dreams through OGQ.

Now my dream is to help our athletes get the best of everything, because I don't want someone to say tomorrow that we missed out on the Olympic medal because we didn't have the right kind of rifle or because the ammunition was not good enough or because there was a physiotherapist lacking.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here

If we expect our athletes to win an Olympic gold medal then we must do everything to give them the best possible support, because Olympic medals are not growing on trees. It is not only about giving the right support, but it is about giving the right support at the right time and that is where OGQ makes a difference. We move quickly, we understand the challenges that an athletes faces at the ground level.
 
I will be the happiest person in the world if our OGQ athletes win medals at the Olympics and make our nation proud.


Image: Viren Rasquinha
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/Rediff.com
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'Power Your Champions is actually making a big impact'

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Olympic Gold Quest has an interesting concept when it comes to funding. The Power Your Champions programme launched last year is something which every Indian can get involved with donations, starting from as little as Rs 100. How successful has the programme been?

It has been a very successful programme. But first, let me tell you about the nature of Olympic Gold Quest as an organisation and how we raise funds. OGQ is a not for profit organisation; we are a Section 25 company and we receive funds through contributions and donations. For every contribution or donation that comes in we give the ATG certificate, which has 50 per cent tax deduction. A bulk of our funding comes from corporate donors where corporates like Eidelweiss Capital, Bajaj Foundation, Ask Foundation, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala Foundation, almost 12 to 13 corporate funders with annual contributions ranging from 5-50 lakhs and more per annum.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here
 
During the course of my association with OGQ we also thought it is important to involve individuals in the donation process. We have seen a lot that individuals in India are very proud about sports and they want the India to do well at the Olympics. We saw that there was no credible platform for them to actually make a difference so we introduced a programme called Power Your Champions, where people could come online on to our website www.olympicgoldquest.in go to our contribution link and contribute as little as Rs. 100 per month.

You can also fill in a form through the Online Clearing Service, where you could contribute a particular amount for a specific period of time. All the funds raised will go towards the training and preparation of our athletes.
 
The Power Your Champions programme was launched a little over a year ago and we have got contributions and commitment for nearly Rs. 15 lakhs already through that and this is I am talking about small contributions from individuals. Individuals can't contribute in lakhs but the normal corporate working employees or a student in college can give as little as Rs. 100. On his own he might feel that it is a drop in the ocean, but, cumulatively, if you have a platform to collect these funds it will make a big difference to the athletes.

Our dream is to have a million Indians contribute as little as Rs 100 per month for OGQ athletes.
 
I will tell you a few impact stories. We have PV Sindhu with OGQ, who is a young 16-year-old badminton player. With the funds raised through the Power Your Champions programme we have managed to send her to four international tours this year and she done so well. When we took her at the age of 15 her ranking was 200 in the world, but today she is 46th in the world.

We bought a new pistol for shooter Annu Raj Singh with the funds raised through OGQ and using that new pistol she got a silver medal at the World Cup and qualified for the Olympics.

So, as you can see, little contribution through Power Your Champions is actually making a big impact.


Image: Viren Rasquinha
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
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'It is very hard to select athletes at a young age'

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The OGQ has also picked quite a few young athletes and started grooming them for the future. How do you select youngsters, because it is difficult to gauge their potential at an early age?

Again, a very good question! Part of the goal of Olympic Gold Quest is also to groom young athletes for the future. I just spoke about PV Sindhu, who is 16 years old, and I believe that she is going to be the next big badminton star in India. We have also taken a 10-year-old boy, Lakshya Sen, who is also a badminton player from Chhattisgarh, and he is currently training at the Prakash Padukone Academy, where we are grooming Lakshya for the 2020 Olympics.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here
 
In terms of our selection process, I admit it is very hard to select athletes at a young age. What we do is, in the sport that we are involved in, by which I mean OGQ's priority sports which are badminton, boxing, shooting, athletics and archery. In these sports we have created people at the ground level and these people include coaches, trainers, physios and even senior sports journalists who advise us about the talented young athletes in the country. Once we get a shortlist of athletes, we speak to their coaches and trainers, look at their commitment, their discipline, their hunger and desire to be the best in the world.

This is because we are not just grooming national champions or Commonwealth Games champions; we want our athletes to be Olympic champions. So we take only exceptionally talented athletes and we want to ensure that only merit is used so there is a process in place where we first shortlist the athletes and then we do thorough research on the athletes like their current performances, past performances etc. Then, we further shortlist the final set of athletes, we prepare a report which is sent to our Board for approval before we finalise it. Once we agree to support the athlete then they are given the whole gamut of support to make them Olympic champions.


Image: PV Sindhu

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'It takes a lot to win an Olympic gold medal'

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Top Indian athletes like MC Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal or Gagan Narang have lauded the efforts of OGQ for looking after their every basic requirement, which has resulted in their overall improvement in the last couple of years. How does it feel when such top athletes acknowledge the efforts of OGQ?

I think they should thank us when they win Olympic medals. Right now, I feet we haven't done anything; all we are doing is a job. The funds are coming from the people, the funds are coming from the corporates and if not for them OGQ would not exist.
 
I feel I am just doing my job. All of us at OGQ are doing our job, we are doing a damn good job and we are doing it well. It takes a lot to win an Olympic gold medal, so we have to keep working hard, keep believing in ourselves. I am really happy that Gagan, Saina and Mary have lauded OGQ, but there is a lot of work still to be done.

- To make contributions to Power Your Champions click here
 
When we win those Olympic gold medals then we will celebrate and rejoice. Right now, there is still lot of hard work, sweat, blood and tears before we win that gold medal.


Image: (Left to right): Gagan Narang, MC Mary Kom, OGQ director Deepika Padukone and Viren Rasquinha

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