Former Olympian and swimming champ, Nisha Millet on the Olympics and what’s next for India
For THE last two weeks, it’s all been about the Olympics at Rio. For a change, sporting excellence and not annoying politics has been the focus of our attention, along with stories of victories, defeats and the victory of human spirit over amazing odds.
Closely following the Rio saga has been former Olympian and national swimming champion, the effervescent Nisha Millet Chatterjee. I love her stories about how she started swimming (she nearly drowned at 5), trained with basic equipment and facilities available then and how her parents supported her — her mum doubling up as trainer, coach, nutritionist, her dad investing family savings for her and sister Reshma’s careers. Today, heading her own successful Nisha Millet’s Swimming Academy (nishamillet.com), Millet concentrates on giving back by training young swimmers, identifying talent and consulting with schools and institutions to spread the joy of swimming to all, not only potential champions.
In Millet’s case, her career was cut lamentably short after her stint at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when back surgery knocked her out of the running for Athens 2004. But she’ll never forget the thrill of participating, she recalls. “I was 18. The energy at the Olympic Village was unforgettable – you meet great athletes you’ve admired all your life. It hits you at the opening ceremony when emotions run high – here’s a culmination of years of training and hard work. I still cry watching the torch lit at every Olympics.”
She admits Rio 2016 has been disappointing as India’s medal chances looked on the upswing post London 2012. “Of course, many Indian sportspeople were unlucky to lose at Rio. But I did expect more of a fight. Particularly, as support for our sportspeople is better than ever before, from independent bodies like the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ). Money and sponsorship has improved beyond cricket, but we have a long way to go compared to China, Australia and the USA, where besides the private sector, the government too gives immense support. In India, most top athletes must make it on their own steam. There’s little choice,” she says, adding,“Though India has talent, training abroad is a must until India catches up in skills and facilities.”
So what now? I ask her. Several things, she replies, “We need more inter-school and especially inter-collegiate competitions across sports. Many promising athletes drop out due to pressure of academics and the need for future economic stability. Today, sport can also be self-sustaining – see the sponsorships and endorsement money earned by the likes of Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom. We also need more sports institutions like OGQ, and supportive corporates like JSW. Young Indians too, must think more of sport – beyond tuitions and TV-watching. Media must recognise sporting achievements as much as it does top-ranking students. Schools must offer more than PT classes – specialised sports like volleyball, football, swimming and athletics.”
“Finally we must realise it’s not only about medals — see gymnast Dipa Karmakar’s stunning 4th place. The euphoria of the Olympics is the best time to push ahead,” she says.