'Results in Asian Championships will be key': American expert Steve Butcher has high hopes from Indian gymnasts

February 29, 2024
A couple of Indian gymnasts stand a good chance of qualifying for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris in July-September

Mumbai, Feb 29 (IANS) A couple of Indian gymnasts stand a good chance of qualifying for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris in July-September this year and Steve Bucher, Program Director, of the high-performance centre in Bhubaneswar, feels the upcoming Asian Championships in May will be very crucial for them.

The Olympic qualification programme for Artistic Gymnastics includes participants doing well in three World Cup events and the Continental Championship. Gymnasts topping the list in the three World Cups in their respective disciplines and those winning medals in the Continental Championships stand a chance of making it to Paris.

Top Indian gymnast, Pranati Nayak won a bronze medal in the first FIG Artistic Gymnastics Apparatus World Cup 2024 in Cairo a few days back while compatriot Dipa Karmakar finished fifth in the same event. Both will now be participating in the next two events on the World Cup circuit, and the 11th Senior Asian Championships to be held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from May 24-26.

Having seen Pranati Nayak from close quarters as she prepares at the Odisha AM/NS Gymnastics High-Performance Centre at the Kalinga Stadium Complex in Bhubaneswar, Steve Bucher says all the stakeholders are working hard to help the gymnasts put up their best in the qualifying programme and grab a ticket to Paris.

“Well, right now we don’t have any gymnasts that have qualified yet from India and the two opportunities are the World Cup circuit and the Asian Championships, which will be in May. And so everybody’s working, the athletes, the coaches and administration to be sure that our gymnasts, not only in Odisha but in the country, are doing their best to try to qualify,” Butcher, who is from the United States and has a long association with the sport, told IANS over the phone from Rourkela where the Odisha government has started a second training centre for gymnastics.

Butcher, who is president, Men’s Technical Committee, of the International Gymnastics Association (FIG), on Thursday attended selection trials for gymnasts in the age group of 6-10 for the Rourkela centre. In all 50 children participated in the preliminary trials of which the coaches shortlisted 20 for the next stage.

Having seen the gymnastics scene in the country from close quarters due to his association with the Odisha centre, Steve Butcher says Indian gymnastics is on an upward trajectory.

“Well, everyone in the world knows that Indian gymnastics overall is on its way up. For example, I think one major factor will be in the future what Odisha is really doing. It’s a model for most countries of the world,” said Butcher, an Executive Committee member of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) since 2013, is Sports Director for the FIG for the last five years and is also Director of Gymnastics Operations at Premier Athletics Knoxville, Tennessee since April 2006.

Asked how the Odisha AM/NS HPT has impacted Indian gymnastics, Butcher, who has been associated with the sport as a top judge, coach and administrator for three decades, said the Asian Championships in May will indicate that.

“Well, the most important thing is the centre has been open only a short time, but already we’re seeing the results from the World Cup, recent World Cup and the big plan is to see results at the Asian Championship in May. But the most important mission right now is to grow the base and the grassroots, to have a much larger base of younger gymnasts that are competing in the sport so that even greater achievement can be secured in the future,” said Butcher.

The seasoned expert said besides talent spotting at the grassroots level, India needs a well-developed programme for the sport and trained coaches to impart correct technique during the formative age.

“Well, talent identification is one part. That’s the first part, the first step. But the next most important phase is the program and the coaching. There’s no substitute for those two.

“I’m not the biggest proponent of short-term coaches visiting, yes, but that’s not really what’s going to move the country forward. And in Odisha, for example, we hired one men’s and one women’s artistic coach to be here and living (in the centre) all the time because that’s really the best route towards success. They’re not only improving the gymnasts but also training the coaches on an everyday basis. And just for the Indian coaches in this and to listen to what they’re saying, I think is critical,” said Butcher.

Asked about the role of the federation (Gymnastics Federation of India) and the government in such programmes, Butcher said their role is to provide a stable competitive programme.

“Well, for any federation or the government is to have a stable overall competitive program and with that stable program, everybody will work through that program toward greater success. And I know right now the program of the federation is under review and they’re trying to revitalize that program with the help of many coaches from outside of India,” he said.

Butcher is confident with a good programme in place, India will be able to harness the abundant talent in the country and will once again be contending for a medal at the Olympic Games, just like Dipa Karmakar did in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, narrowly missing the bronze medal as she finished fourth, the best performance by any Indian gymnast in the mega event so far.

Since then Pranati Nayak has qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, earning a continental quota spot despite being unable to continue her regular training because of the Covid-19 pandemic. She eventually finished 79th in the All-around category in Tokyo.

Now Pranati is hoping to qualify in the vault discipline and do better than in her first attempt at the Olympics.



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