Days after an Indian gymnast made history at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the Gymnastics Federation of India is under fire for its decision to withdraw from the upcoming world championships.
Gymnast Ashish Kumar captured a bronze medal on floor exercise and a silver on vault in Delhi, the first medal for an Indian gymnast at a major international competition. His achievement was celebrated in the Indian media as a heroic achievement in a sport with limited history in India.
Indian gymnast Ashish Kumar, 19, made history with his medal-winning performance at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
But the celebration was shortlived for Kumar and Indian head coach Vladimir Chertkov after the federation elected to withdraw from next week's world championships.
The Russian-American Chertkov, whose one-year contract with the federation expires Nov. 30, slammed the federation and its officials.
"India needs a professional federation," Chertkov told the Indian press. "The Gymnastics Federation of India just does not have any knowledge of the sport. It is a useless organization."
Chertkov's frustrations with the federation began long before the official opening at the much-aligned Commonwealth Games, the first large-scale international event organized by India. When Chertkov arrived in India, he found the gymnasts training on equipment purchased in 1990, unsuitable for elite-level gymnastics. The federation had promised new equipment would be delivered by March, but it didn't arrive until shortly before the Games began.
The competition venue also was not ready until the last minute, Kumar noted.
"I think I could have won the gold had equipment arrived on time for the Commonwealth Games and the venue was also ready on time. Then we could have got the home advantage which we certainly lost out," said Kumar, who fell on his second vault in the final.
India's federation is composed of bureaucrats who don't understand the sport of gymnastics or the scope of what was accomplished, Chertkov said. In Delhi, the 19-year-old Kumar competed the only 7.0-Difficulty vault of the field, with a 6.6-Difficulty second vault. He also tumbled what is possibly the first 2 1/2 twist, punch double front combination on floor exercise.
"I started from scratch and achieving this is like getting the first man on the moon or the first man to the peak of Mount Everest," Chertkov said. "Nobody believed this could be achieved. It does not matter which medal we won. It was a good achievement. When I told other coaches that we achieved this feat after just a year's hard work, nobody could believe it."
But Chertkov told the press that after Kumar won the bronze on floor exercise — the first-ever medal for an Indian gymnast at the Commonwealth Games — federation president J.S. Kandhari asked him sarcastically if "that was all he could deliver, a bronze?"
"Winning the medal was a big achievement and it was very exciting, but the federation is just not trying to learn any lesson from this year's competition," Chertkov said. "What is even worse is they are not even ready to acknowledge the feat."
Chertkov blasted the federation for its decision to withdraw from worlds, which is the first qualifier for the 2012 Olympic Games.
"This could have been a good opportunity for the Indian gymnasts to qualify for the London Olympics also but they have once again set our growth back," he said.
Khandari said the decision had to do with the number of gymnasts available, even though the world championships is open to both teams and individuals. Some smaller nations, such as Armenia and Chile, are sending only a single gymnast each to Rotterdam.
"Two of our players are injured and we need some particular number of players to represent at the world championships," Khandhari said.
Despite the problems, Chertkov hinted he may stay if his contract is extended, and that he believes India has a future in the sport of gymnastics.
"It is not a question of interest anymore," he said. "It has now become more of a responsibility. Let's see if the government takes a call as they did it in case of hockey."
Continued Chertkov, "I'm extremely satisfied and overwhelmed. If this was possible in one year, the future looks promising."