The recently concluded Tokyo Olympics has been the most successful in India’s history. With a total of seven medals, we inched ahead of the previous record of 6 medals won at the 2021 Olympics in London. India also won its first-ever gold Olympic medal in Track and Field in men’s javelin. Our Men’s hockey team won an Olympic medal after 41 long years and our women’s team finished fourth to give a huge boost to hockey in the country.
Rewind to a little more than a decade ago, when I had retired from hockey in 2008 after representing India for 8 years and having played 180 matches for the country, including the 2004 Athens Olympics. My retirement was at a relatively early age (28) as I felt the need to move on in my life. I completed my MBA at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, and had a conventional corporate job through campus placement when I got the opportunity to meet Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone. Geet and Prakash are two legends of Indian sports who need no introduction. They had started a non-profit organization called Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) with a clear mission – to help Indian athletes win Olympic Gold medals – and were looking to fill the CEO position. Geet and Prakash are God-like figures to me, and I could not deny their offer. More importantly, in OGQ, I would have a credible platform to help the next generation of athletes achieve a dream that I could not achieve – win an Olympic medal as an athlete. That’s how my journey with OGQ started on June 1, 2009.
In the last 3 Olympics at London 2012, Rio 2016, and Tokyo 2020, India has won a total of 14 individual medals and one team medal (men’s bronze in hockey at Tokyo). We are very proud to say that OGQ has supported the training of 9 out of the 14 medal winners. These include Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting- silver), Ravi Kumar (wrestling – silver), PV. Sindhu (badminton – bronze) and Lovlina Borgohain (boxing – bronze) at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics. OGQ has been supporting Sindhu since 2010 when she was just 14 years old. Sindhu, now 26 years old, is the only Indian female athlete to have won two Olympic medals.
In fact, OGQ started supporting Mirabai Chanu in 2017. She had missed out on a medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. As per our analysis, the focus areas of support for Mirabai were sports psychology, physiotherapy, and recovery since the sport is physically demanding, and last but not least, nutrition since wrestling is a weight-based sport. Mirabai then went on to win the silver medal at Tokyo Olympics 2020 in women’s 49 kgs weightlifting. I was teary-eyed when I saw Mira standing on the Olympic podium with her silver medal, especially because her journey has been quite hard over the last 4 years with several injuries and challenges that she had to overcome.
OGQ currently supports the training of almost 230 athletes across 9 individual Olympic sports. We have 5 priority sports – badminton, boxing, shooting, archery, and wrestling. Data from the Olympic medal table over the last 5 Olympics suggests that countries between 11 to 20 on the medal table win around 80% of medals in 4 sports, suggesting focus is the key to success. We support the athletes in terms of providing them with experienced coaches, training facilities, equipment, and a team of specialized sports science staff which includes physiotherapists, strength and conditioning experts, nutritionists, and sports psychologists. We lay great emphasis on the robustness of the selection and monitoring process. We have a full-fledged research team that looks into all quantitative and qualitative parameters including benchmarking with world standards at all age-groups in their respective sports before selecting an athlete.
In 2012 after the London Olympics, we formally launched our OGQ Junior Scholarship Program which aimed at giving world-class support to the most talented kids in our priority sports, and also to ensure they are in the right ecosystem of excellence. In 2016 after the Rio Olympics, OGQ took a step back to review our operations. Deep introspection revealed that of all the ingredients that go into the mix of building Olympic champions, the coach is the most important one. We felt that we needed to start a Coaches Program to raise the standard of Indian coaches. After one year of research of coaching programs across the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia, we launched our own OGQ Coaches Excellence Program (CEP) in 2017 in two sports – badminton and shooting. The OGQ CEP aims at identifying the most talented young coaches and ensuring that their skills are upgraded in three specific areas – technical, sports science, and leadership. We aim to extend this program to other sports in the years to come.
In 2019, OGQ started to support para-athletes with the mission of helping them win Paralympic medals. Twenty-four para-athletes supported by OGQ, almost 40% of the Indian Paralympic contingent, will be taking part at the Tokyo Paralympics which starts on August 24. Most of these athletes have upper or lower limb amputations and a few are on wheelchairs. It has been extremely inspirational for us to see these para-athletes overcome their physical disabilities to compete at the highest level.
One of the standout features of the last five years during this entire Tokyo Olympic cycle has been teamwork between all stakeholders involved in Indian sports. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), the National Sports Federations, and Non-Profits like OGQ have worked in close cooperation with each other to ensure that the athletes get the best possible support, all gaps are covered and there is no overlapping of support. For Mirabai Chanu, for example, the SAI, Weightlifting Federation of India and OGQ worked in close cooperation to send her twice to St. Louis in the U.S. to train in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics. OGQ endeavors to continue working very closely with the existing system of support. I served on the Governing Body of SAI as well as on the PMO Task Force along with Gopichand and Abhinav Bindra and a few others to prepare India’s plans for Tokyo 2020, Paris 2024, and Los Angeles 2028.
I feel that India can come in the Top 20 nations in the world by 2032. For that, we need to win approximately 20 medals, for which we need sustained fundraising. OGQ is also a registered 501c3 entity in the U.S. under the name Foundation for Promotion of Sports and Games. We will continue to stay focused on excellence and go deep in support. After all, India’s solitary gold medal at Tokyo showed it truly takes just six grams of gold to lift the worth of a nation.
Viren Rasquinha is a former Indian Hockey Captain, Olympian, and Arjuna Awardee. He is the Director and CEO of Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ).