Ashish Kumar doesn’t need any introduction when it comes to gymnastics. He is the only Indian gymnast to win two medals at the same Commonwealth Games. He is the most decorated male gymnast of the country and been one of the dominant gymnasts in India in the last quad. He has represented India at numerous World Championships and World Cups and also known widely at the International level. He is an all around gymnast but his specialty includes Floor and Vault where he also won his two Commonwealth medals in 2010. He placed first at the Commonwealth Games Trials held in Delhi in February. Ashish is no stranger to the Commonwealth Games where he first made Indian Gymnastics known in the international field as well as made gymnastics as a sport recognizable in India. He made a very successful comeback at the recent CWG Trials held in Delhi last month proving many critics and general public wrong. His awaited comeback has been very exciting for the gymnastics community in India and he is once again a medal hope for India at the CWG 2018.
IG: How is your training going for the Commonwealth Games?
AK: Training is going well. I recently went to Ukraine and Uzbekistan. It’s going very well now. I’m training on the events where I have a better chance to qualify for finals at the same time training for all around. There are few small things that need some cleaning up.
IG: You topped the CWG trials. What is the secret to your success?
AK: There is no secret. Every athlete has their own pace and need their own environment of training. Personally, I need a peaceful environment to train, without any politics and training specific. Therefore I trained in Uzbekistan for one month, where the goal was to bring my fitness up to the mark. Because if you are fit, you can enjoy gymnastics and can do whatever you want, you know it’s all about the body game. The better your fitness is, the better you perform. I also worked on my vault there. After that I went to Ukraine. There my training went really well because I was able to train with their National Team. They already have two Olympic Gold medalists on their team. I didn’t have any international exposure after 2016 so training with them helped boost my confidence a lot. I also participated at two competitions with their team, where I stood fourth in the all around in the first competition and third in the second one. This was a very good achievement for me because if one comes in 3rd or 4th position with their team that means your graph is improving. I think this was the key point when I came back to India, people who have seen my performances in the last few years would have noticed an improvement and lot of people told me that I was in even better shape now than in 2010.
IG: How did you prepare yourself mentally for this Commonwealth trials?
AK: With me the key point is the more I do, the more confidence I gain. If you want to teach someone a double twist for example, you will ask them to do repetitions, and that will make them more confident. Because our minds work along with our body. That’s what I did in Ukraine for 2o days. Manoj (Rana) Sir had designed a program for me and my task was to follow it without questions. After that my body was in better shape, and I didn’t have to worry about that after coming back to India. Coming third in the Ukraine National Team, my total came to around 78 in the all around. There is a considerable difference between their national team and our national team’s performance. Therefore doing well there, improved my confidence and when I came back to India, I felt confident psychologically and I didn’t have to worry too much.
IG: There are always ups and down in gymnastics. After 2010 you weren’t at the peak of your performance and people were questioning whether Ashish Kumar will be able to repeat the 2010 CWG success. What are your thoughts about it? How did you handle this 8 year period mentally?
AK: This is the negative thing about gymnastics here, and I say it frankly, there are times when someone performs well, for any sports person, there’s a peak performance level and there is also a point when it goes down. After winning two medals at the 2010 CWG, I had shoulder surgery. After that there were multiple issues with the Federation, we didn’t have any national championships. In 2014, there were some issues regarding the locket I used to wear while performing, and a lot of politics surrounding that. That was a big reason for my downfall.
I won in 2010 and in 2014 there was no one in event finals besides me. People always criticise but they don’t realise that this is sport, and our sport is very unpredictable. For example, Kohei Uchimura, a five time World Champion, withdrew from the 2017 Worlds with a small ankle injury. The reason for this is not that he was unfit. This is the psychology in India and this is why India’s performance is not at the highest level. We have a lot of talent, and if the players are performing then there is support, if not then… There should always be support, and encouragement. The support is missing and without it we cannot create an environment where we can see future Olympians.
IG: What was the coach’s role in your comeback?
AK: Post 2014 season was very rough for me.I tore a ligament in my ankle just before the Asian games. I was doing my 2.5 twist and when I landed my ankle rolled on one side and along with that the front somersault happened. We went did an MRI and when we showed it to a doctor, he said that it was a complete Grade 3 tear. He said it’s the strongest ligament of our body. He denied any possibility of me doing gymnastics again and suggested a three week plaster. We didn’t have much time and it was very challenging for me because when you train for whole year and you think because of the injury you will lose the Asian Games and World Championships. But then I consulted one of the known physio’s, he treated me very well. And after that Manoj sir coached me very sincerely in his own way. He trained me so well that I gave my best performance at the Asian Games till now. I was in the top 15 in the All around and I scored 81 points. ( Ashish Kumar finished at 12th Place with the exact score of 81.750). Then in 2017, I had a wrist injury, so I needed to get operated for that.
For any athlete to come back to their level after an injury is very hard, especially in a sport like gymnastics. In India this is extremely hard. I give all credits to Manoj Rana sir because it is only because of him that I am able to perform like this again. I have trained alone for many years, and without a coach it’s very difficult to train. He had been with me since the 2014 Asian Games, and because of his support I have become mentally stronger.
When you’re training and people say bad things about you like he can’t do it, he is done with it, his days are gone, it has a very bad effect on the player’s performance. And the coach has to keep all these negative things away from his gymnast so he can focus on his training. The same people, who were talking behind your back, when you perform well, praise you. If you have your coach’s support then you can survive anything, and can come back
Ashish Kumar vault from 2018 Melbourne World cup EF
IG: Tell us about the Melbourne World cup. What happened? You were in the vault finals, one of your strongest event where you could have medaled, what do you think happened that pushed you to the 8th position in the finals?
AK: As I said earlier, in the last two years this world cup was my first international exposure, besides all these controversies, injuries and all. I had not prepared for the medal for this competition. This was kind of a pre-competition for the big event for me. I wanted to see where I stand because at real competitions you get to know your real mistakes. Like my floor went really well but deduction was a lot and I could see the reason for those deductions. Those are very little and I’m working on them already, and some of them have improved. After those are cleaned up my score will improve by almost 1-1.5 points. If you can score over 14 you can win medal at CWG. The double Tsukahara on vault was good, double hand front is what I worked a lot on in Ukraine. Not a lot of repetitions but on technique. Earlier I used to pike before the first flight but now it’s less, that’s why my double hand front went forward. I’m working on my landings now. If I land both doubles well I will be in a medall tally somewhere.
IG: After watching Aruna winning a medal, what were your thoughts about your finals?
AK: Aruna’s medal was her pure hard work and luck. Because in my opinion when you combine these two you achieve things. And in gymnastics its depends on the day, whoever can perform well on that day, is a champion. Aruna did very well. Whoever brings a medal, the more exposure gymnastics gets. Whether its Aruna’s world cup medal, my CWG and Asian Games or Dipa’s CWG and Rio’s test event, Indian gymnastics should rise. It was motivating for me.
At the world cup, vault had the biggest fight for a medal. 25 men were on floor and 25 were on vault from all over the world. It was a tough challenge for me. But if you can reach the finals with all the gymnastics super power countries like China and Japan, then you can also reach the Commonwealth games final. Once you’re in the finals its like do or die situation, you land well, you win.
IG: What do you think your chances are for the medal in this Commonwealth Games?
AK: If I do all the things the way we are planning and don’t repeat the mistakes from the world cup, I would like to make the finals for two events. You cannot claim a medal by just going into finals. We have to go step by step, if you will try to go directly on a higher step you will fall. The very first target will be to do my best on Floor and Vault, and reach the finals. Once you reach the finals you feel a kind of relief from the psychological pressure. And as I said in finals, you land, you win. Because after that there is nothing to lose but so much to achieve. And also you get your score, you get time to perform in all around. Because you know we cannot expect any medal in all around yet, but when I will perform in All around competition I will do floor and vault again, so I can test those events again and do my best. It’s good training for the finals. If you get another day you can refine that to get prepared for the finals.
IG: Have you looked at other gymnast who might be in finals with you?
AK: Yes I have, like in the World cup finals, my score was high enough to qualify for the CWG Finals. There can be only two per country in finals. If you take two from Australia and Canada and one from Great Britain, then 3 spots are there in the finals. I’ll try to qualify for finals on second or third place.
IG: Do you have any expectation for your All Around competition, like you want to better your 2014 Asian games Performance?
AK: See, whenever I do all around at International competitions, I know the performance is not at that level yet. A medal performance is above 80.00 like 81, 83. But I’ll try to do my best because in future it will help me to qualify for the Olympics.
IG: Do you think compared to the 2010 Commonwealth Games level of gymnastics has improved?
AK: Definitely. Great Britain team is very strong, they have won medals at the Olympics. Canada team is good, Australian are good, so definitely competition level has improved a lot.
In my opinion Indian gymnast’s performance we can say has been stable, hasn’t improved hasn’t fallen. But I cannot comment on any individual. Situation and things matter. As I said environment is big factor. We have to improve on that.
IG: Where do you think Indian Men’s Gymnastics are still lacking in order to put themselves into a medal tally at the world stage ?
AK: I wouldnt say its very difficult to be a medalist on world level, we can. We all are human, they work hard, and so do we. We are lacking behind in smart work. Here we train 7-8 hours but there is no smart work in that. They train 5 hours a day but they train smartly. They research on things. If they are training on floor or pommel, they have physios, doctors and any other professional that they need to prevent Injury. When you have all that your performance will improve. So management and environment is a big factor. In India we don’t have such a training environment to fight for the medal at the world level, we can if we can have basic facilities and good training environment.
IG: What you think about appointing a Foreign coach for National training camps? Or any other changes you think need to be made in order to improve the training pattern and level of gymnastics in national training camps?
AK: I don’t think we have to have a foreign coach in the camp. I went to train abroad. My aim was to have a good training environment and no politics. Dipa brought a medal but Nandi Sir trains her, and he’s an Indian. I don’t think a foreign coach has very big role, but in the gymnastics camp we should allow new coaches like Manoj Sir, he’s a very good planner, FIG Level 3 coach, amd these kind of people should get a chance to be coaches in training camps. Older coaches still use their old techniques and performances comes accordingly. But the new generation who is studying, researching and have done FIG level courses , they know how to train gymnasts. It’s necessary that they get a chance for coaching in the national camps. Every coach has their own way of coaching. One coach should only plan. Like Vladimir Sir, he never coached but he was a very good planner. If we make a plan like Road to 2020 Olympics, there will be training camps at certain countries then the team will participate in these competitions. We need this kind of plan to take Indian Gymnastics as a team to a world Level.
IG: What are your future plans?
AK: After Commonwealth Games we have the Asian Games in September. We need to prepare for that. And then World Championships are in October. After that the National Games in Goa as we have heard. My main target is ofcourse 2020 Olympics. But Manoj sir is planning everything. The coach has a very crucial role in athlete’s career. Now I know my daily routine like I have to do one routine on each apparatus, repetitions of skill. He plans and I train.
IG: What you think an athlete should have to reach to his highest Potential?
AK: In my Opinion you should do a skill in one way. Like a gymnast did a hand front, I advised him something and then 4 other coaches suggest him something as well, but everyone will tell him a different thing. The gymnast can get confused. When you train don’t listen to everybody, do things in a certain way without any distraction, if you listen to everyone whose giving you the advice you won’t reach anywhere.
You have to work hard beyond limit, sometimes our body feels so tired and we give up, but you have to stay strong and keep working because ultimately your hard work will take you to greater success.
Thanks to Aditi Gandhi for the editing.