Guwahati: Banned boats for training, lack of proper hostel facilities, privately organized camp funded by academy’s alumnus, and on top of that inadequate dietary requirements – well, we are talking about the preparedness of the five Assam athletes, including one female paddler, who qualified for the upcoming Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG) in Bhopal, where water sports will be introduced for the first time.

EastMojo visited the Kayaking, Canoeing & Swimming Training Centre along the Oujari Charanbeel in Morigaon district to assess preparations of the Assam team for the KIYG, where Kayaking, along with Canoe Slalom, Canoeing and Rowing, are the four disciplines that will be introduced for the first time.

Former Assam cricketer Ananta Borthakur, whose promising career as a gentle medium pacer was jeopardized by a freak knee injury in 2003, turned his focus to water sports. After ending his brief stint as a player at the National Games in 2007, the lanky Sivasagar man took a diploma in coaching, and has been heading the academy at Morigaon since 2014. It’s been almost a decade now, and the 43-year-old has produced numerous national-level medallists.

As water sports battle govt apathy in Assam, 5 qualify for KIYG-23
Coach Ananta Borthakur (c) along with the five paddlers who qualified for the Khelo India Youth Games

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On a contractual role, Borthakur has been instrumental in spotting and nurturing the talents from the length and breadth of the state at its lone water sports coaching centre in Morigaon. Borthakur is hopeful that his prodigies will return a handful from Bhopal.

The Assam contingent, comprising Mithu Patar, Rabinash Patar, Bikram Jyoti Konwar, Darshan Bordoloi and Arpita Bordoloi, will take part in three events at the competition. While all the boys will be seen in action in the K4 500m event, Bikram and Darshan will also participate in the K2 1,000m competition. Arpita, the lone female member in the team, will compete at the women’s K1 200m race.

As water sports battle govt apathy in Assam, 5 qualify for KIYG-23

The quadruple confirmed their entry to the Khelo India Youth Games after bagging bronze medals in both the K4 (500m and 200m) events at the national championships, held in Bhopal between December 22 to 24. Arpita also finished on a decent note at the championships, but missed a podium finish by a narrow margin to qualify for the KIYG.

After returning from the competition, the five paddlers are currently undergoing a 22-day training-cum-preparatory camp from January 5 to 27. The camp, however, hasn’t been facilitated by the government or the federation, but by a bunch of former trainees at the academy, and from their own pockets.

The privately funded training camp by former trainees at the academy for the participants of KIYG

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“It’s a privately-funded camp, I’m grateful to my former trainees, most of whom are medallists at national-level events, and ended up with respective jobs for supporting the cause. There are around 18 senior players who have been very supportive of the camp and asked us to focus on training, and leave the expenses to them,” coach Borthakur told EastMojo.

“Since kayaking is set to be introduced for the first time at the Khelo India Youth Games, and five of our trainees qualified, the seniors are very excited about the prospects of the academy, and are supporting us,” added Borthakur, who also lamented the quality of the boats that are used for training.

At the academy centre, boats of different colors and sizes are stacked, making it visually attractive. However, a closer look at the boats tells a different story.

All the boats are already past their prime, and are no longer approved by the International Canoe Federation (ICF), the global governing body for canoe and kayak.

As water sports battle govt apathy in Assam, 5 qualify for KIYG-23
The participants of KIYG training at the Oujari Charanbeel in Morigaon district

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“We are still using the old and banned ‘Sunny’ boats for training, which are already banned for competition. On top of that, all the boats are worn out, and we have been able to maintain a few for practice by repairing some parts using local wood and plasters, which in fact make these heavier,” Borthakur explained.

The boats that are currently used in championships are called ‘Nelo’ boats, and are imported for the Sports Authority of India (SAI)-run centres. These are expensive, with each costing approximately Rs 4 lakh.

“There is also another Indian-made ‘Cargo’ boat, which is relatively cheaper, but we are yet to get any of these,” he lamented.

So how does the nature of the boat affect performance?

Borthakur explained that K4 boats used at the Olympic Games usually weigh approximately 30kgs while the ones they use in Morigaon are around 40kgs, thanks to the extra layer of plasters applied for longevity.

Similarly, the standard weight of K2 boats must be around 18kgs and the ones at the centre weigh about 25kgs. And the singles K1 boats at the centre are almost 8kgs heavier than the standard 12kg boats used at the major competitions.

“The weight of the boats make a huge difference performance-wise. Heavier boats test the endurance level of the paddlers and make it difficult to maneuver and balance. At the national championships held in Bhopal, our paddlers took some time to get adjusted to the Olympic-level boats. If we use such boats for regular training, they can improve on timing and their overall performance.”

Despite the limited resources, Borthakur is happy with his team’s performance at the national level, who have made their presence felt and ended up on the podium.

“They are natural athletes, and as a coach I do not need to work much on their physique because most of them are fit. It’s the training and the equipment that we need, and I’m hopeful the government will help us in this regard if our athletes return with a few medals from KIYG,” Borthakur signs off with his fingers crossed.

Well, as we begin to wrap our conversation, the coach came rushing to share some good news. The sports department has agreed to sponsor paddlers’ diet for the ongoing camp.

While Borthakur’s eyes lit up momentarily, is that the end of the apathy for water sports in Assam?

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