With running becoming the fastest growing participative sport in India, what are your views on Indian Athletes in the distance running sphere?
Tim: Running is fundamentally no different to any other sport, if you throw numbers at it, with adequate coaching, high quality talent will rise to the top. This obviously applies to Cricket, Football, Kabaddi and Rugby, in fact every single other major Indian national and global sport. And that is where the challenge lies for India, because until significantly greater numbers of young runners – and I mean kids from the mid-teens upwards, or even earlier – start to build endurance & strength, along with specific coordination skills, then the “talent pyramid” will not have a wide base and obviously therefore, will not have a high peak where elite athletes are discovered and can be developed in to world class performers.
Rob: I have always said India is trying to wake a sleeping giant regarding its athletic talent. It is a huge country with vast numbers to draw from. This makes it a very exciting time for the sport, but this is going to take time. The global stage is dominated by the East Africans, who have moved ahead of every other global region in terms of speed and volume of runners. So, the gap back to the best of the rest is vast. However, every journey starts with a single step and if the Governing bodies in India focus on short- and medium-term goals, everyone in the country will start to see tangible evidence of the progress. For instance, it was great to see 2 Indian men in the front pack of the Olympic Marathon back in Rio in 2016. More of that will follow, but patience and realism in expectations will all aid the progress and the feel good factor here in India.
What changes have you seen in the running landscape in India?
Tim: When I attended the very first Mumbai Marathon back in 2004, the sport of Running in India was very low key. The pioneers of running in India, Anil & Vivek Singh at Procam International, persevered and pushed over that hump of acceptance so that a critical mass of runners were established. Seeing a pack of Indian elite in Procam races these days is so different from what was going on ten years ago. Good prize money, good visibility on TV and good coaching, all act as incentives and enable the sport to achieve more profile.
Rob: I first came to India to commentate on the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the changes since then have been massive. There has been a seemingly conscious effort to become a nation of sports participants as well as viewers. Nowhere has this been more obvious than the mass participation races being laid on 4 times a year here by Procam International. The formation of the Elite Distance Running Programme (EDRP) will help identify those with the potential of running internationally and to a level where they are challenging for the commonwealth world and Olympic medals. India’s positioning in global distance running terms is moving in the right direction and has already seen the country make great progress. More is coming!
Where do you believe the running space is heading in the next 5 years?
Tim: As far as India is concerned, Running can only go in one direction and that is upwards. It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 78; if you gradually build up the amount of running you do – and the emphasis here has to be on the word “gradually” – then you will improve, you will be able to run for longer, for further and feel more comfortable doing it. People will learn that as well as improving your physical health, running is a wonderful healer and therapy for a wide variety of mental issues and anxieties – and goodness only knows, in this hectic, pressurized world that so many of us inhabit, that is a gift from the gods indeed!
Rob: The next goal for India is sure to produce a top 8 finish in a global distance running finals. There are more and more people watching and participating in the sport across the country and it will only take one eye-catching performance to capture the imagination of the wider public to take the sport’s growth onto another level. But this can only be maximized with a proper system in place. The funding at the top must keep filtering down to the grassroots level in order for India to be in a position to fully make the most of such a scenario. On a more tangible level, the next 5 years should see the organizers aiming to continue building on their great work on the 4 major events so far. That is the best possible advert for the medium-term future of the sport here. Long may the positive vibes and growing base for the sport continue.
Interview credit: Procam International