Wake up to weightlifting
In the wake of Andhra girls' successful performance, it becomes imperative to provide proper facilities to aspiring weightlifters in the State, writes V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM.
ALL SMILES: Neelamshetty Laxmi
THE SLEEPY township of Amudalavalasa in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh is back in the news, heralding the arrival of two stars, P. Sailaja, who won three gold medals in the 75 kg category, and Neelamshetty Laxmi, winner of three silver medals in the 69 kg category in the Manchester Commonwealth Games.
If one thought after Malleswari created history to become the first woman medallist from India in the Sydney Olympics, the destiny of this place would change, it is a misplaced notion. Nothing has changed at the venue where Malleswari, Laxmi and other girls were first taught the basics by the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh coach, Neelamshetty Appana. It is a tragedy of sorts that his efforts are rarely recognised.
THREE'S COMPANY: Shailaja Pujari
Born in a big family of five sisters and one brother, Sailaja gave early hints of her talent. A visit to the Maruti Vyayamshala two years ago saw the senior citizens and keen observers of weightlifting predict that Sailaja would grab the limelight. Kothakota Amminaidu, who runs the Vyayamshala, was one of the more vocal members of this group. A four-year, long stint with Andhra's best known coach, K.Amarnath, at the Sports Authority of India Eluru weightlifting Academy was what exactly the doctor had prescribed for Sailaja. An experience, which saw her raw talent moulded to explode at the Manchester Games. She joined the Academy in August 1998.
Badeti Venkatramaiah, secretary of AP Weightlifting Association, spotted the talent in Sailaja and took over the role of her mentor, since the formative stages. The results were there for all to see. In the 1999 Nationals, Sailaja picked gold, then in the next year settled for three silver. In 2001, Sailaja demonstrated to the weightlifting world that she has arrived winning gold in the 75 kg category in the Junior world championship besides being adjudged `Best Lifter' in the Women Empowerment Nationals. She also won the gold in the 2001 National Games in Punjab last December. After that, she has been training in Patiala national camp along with other Andhra girls Neelamshetty Laxmi, N. Krishnaveni, J. Jayamma.
More importantly, Badeti ensured that most of the girls including Sailaja and Laxmi continued to be trained even in the national camps under the same Eluru coach, Amarnath. "Problems for the trainees like adjusting to the coaching techniques of the national coaches as well social and language barriers can be avoided. To make them feel at home, I always insisted that Amarnath be there in the national camps,'' he said before leaving for Manchester. And, in the six months preceding the Commonwealth Games, Amarnath took personal interest in Sailaja and Laxmi. Though Laxmi didn't win the coveted gold, she once again illustrated her widely acknowledged never-say-die attitude with yet another creditable performance with the three silver in the 69 kg category. She in fact won silver in the 1994 Asian Games and the 1998 Commonwealth Games, another silver in the 1993 World championship. That she came back from self-imposed exile after marriage to grab limelight is a fitting tribute to this Arjuna Awardee's fighting spirit and dedication.
This is the time when the powers-that-be and the Association should join hands to promote the sport in a big way by meeting the aspirations of hundreds of budding Malleswaris, Sailajas and Laxmis in Srikakulam district.
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