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Exclusive Interview with Commonwealth Taekwondo championship Gold Medalist Ajay Dalal

We spoke to India’s top Taekwondo player Ajay Dalal about a plethora of issues ranging from his childhood to future prospects of his career.

Last updated: 28.01.2019
Ajay Dalal, India's top taekwondo player during his practice | Sports Social Blog

In this one on one interview, we speak with India’s top Taekwondo player Ajay Dalal where he speaks about a plethora of issues ranging from his childhood to future prospects. It was a very candid chat with a grounded sportsman who is an inspiration to anyone who has dreams and wishes to achieve anything in their life. The extracts from the interview are as follows:

Why did you choose Taekwondo?

It can be said that I didn’t choose Taekwondo but the game chose me. As a child, I used to play cricket as a time pass for my school but it was not very rewarding. While fielding I used to think that the ball comes to me once in an hour and 11 of us are standing here uselessly. I was a notorious kid with aggressive nature who used to get into fights owing to my roots from the village where we used to do farming. So I was chosen for Taekwondo in 1999 at an age of 10 years.  

How did you start your journey?

My journey started after my coaches picked me up after observing my notorious nature and saw that this boy who is well built and fights also would be good for this game. Thus I started. Then I felt that in cricket even if I threw a good ball my efforts could go in vain due to some other fielder and my true potential will never be rewarded whereas in Taekwondo I would directly be rewarded for my performance. I got a medal when I represented my school for the first time and felt that I am being rewarded for my hard work and no one else is being given the fruits of my hard work.

Who was your first coach?

My first coach was Mr Yad Ram who saw the potential in me and gave me a chance.

Tell us something about other coaches who trained you?

My first coach when I was selected for the Delhi team was Mr Madan Singh Chauhan who was the senior coach of Delhi team who refined me a lot. Then I got to train under the coach of Indian army Mr Prem Kumar. Then I got several foreign coaches.

What were the struggles at the beginning of your career?

I had to face struggles since the beginning. Case in point we used to live in a village there used to be a school called Hansraj Model School in Punjabi Bagh in the city where it was very difficult to get admission. My father was a farmer and my mother used to rear cattle of cows and Buffalo. Someone told them about this school and one of my father’s friend’s son got rejected there. So my mother decided to send me there for which she had to request the principal a lot that he is a kid from the village and if given a chance to move out will achieve something. In this way I got admission.

So the atmosphere was completely different there. They had all the modern facilities and after looking at them I used to practice the same in my fields in the village in the free time that I got while helping my father.

When did you decide to take your journey to international level and become a full-time Taekwondo player?

This happened in 2005 when I first represented Delhi in Manipur in junior nationals. I saw many players whom we used to only hear about. So this gave me a feeling that I should also do this and do something big for my country. I can also run with a national flag having India’s crest on my pocket. My nationals continued, I started getting cramps and it went forward.

What is the current status of Taekwondo in India?

Taekwondo is the second most-watched game across the globe with 187 countries participating last time in the last world championship. In India also there is no school, park or colony left where Taekwondo is not being played. So we have started getting the raw material of India who would do wonders in the future. We just need to polish them.

What do you think is the reason for India not getting medals at a global level like Asian Games etc?

See Asia is the most difficult part because it includes Korea whose native sports Taekwondo is which is followed by China then Jordan and even Iran is a tough competition. Now it is very difficult to beat them because we need that sort of technology, coaches etc which we lack. Last time 4 of our kids lost medal fights with a very marginal difference of score and before that, in preceding Asian games 7 kids lost medal fights and 1 girl lost because referee gave superiority to another player. But it is sure that Indians will qualify for next Asian games and Olympics.

When a player becomes famous he starts getting support from several routes but what do you have to say about his struggle days of Taekwondo player?

The condition of a Taekwondo player is same as of players of other games. It is incumbent on our sponsors to understand that when a player has archived success he has already lived more than half of his life like I have reached the top level in India at an age of 30 I would only play for 3 or 4 more years. But if a kid gets all these facilities and media attention at a young age say 15 so while he turns 30 he will have several medals in his name and they can be role models for several others.

Kids in India do so much hard work but their maximum focus is just to get a job. They think that we can utilize our talent later but first we should look for a job.

What do you think of the emoluments that you are now getting?

Now I am satisfied with what I am getting. Plus now there is a new sports policy where the government will pay 16 lacks per annum to all top sportsmen which they can use to pay to their coaches, rent, accommodation etc.

Now you are a celebrity so how has that changed your life?

Earlier I had to tell everyone that I am Ajay Dalal and I have played so and so game but now due to social media and media, we get a lot of exposure. Several people message me saying they love my game. Several kids come for advice. I do enjoy all this.

What is your exercise schedule?

My day starts with training and I am lucky that my physical training coach is Mr Jangra who puts in a complete effort with regard to my reflexes and other aspects and leaves no stone unturned working on my schedules day and night and tries how I can improve more. I am really grateful to him also.

Then this session is followed by an afternoon session where I usually do gym and then in the night session of 2 to 3 hours I work on my skills.

In Image: During his regular exercise

What do you think holds more importance in sports? Talent or Training?

I think most important is discipline without which you can not achieve anything. You need to be disciplined and follow the orders of your coaches instead of giving excuses. A very inspiring incident happened when we were in Kerela where we halted our practices due to rain but Ankit Sharma who represented India in the long jump for the first time started running and told me on being asked that God also knows that this is our practice time. So when he is not stopping why should I.

Everyone has one or the other talent but only if you practice regularly you will be able to take it to another level and achieve success. Even if someone who doesn’t have talent can go far in life with hard work just like the Tortoise the famous Heir and Tortoise story. Talent can give you an initial edge but hard work helps you survive even if it takes time.

What steps should be taken by the government of India to promote Taekwondo?

Govt needs to start conducting a league just like Kabbadi League and football league. This would bring in foreign coaches players etc and also give us limelight.  

Who is your favourite Taekwondo player?

In India, I like Sandeep Kundu who is in Chandigarh police and whom I like most is Surender Bhandari bhaiya who won a Bronze Medal in 2002 Asian games for India. I have deep respect for him.

Internationally I like Hadi Saei from Iran who has 2 golds and 1 silver and Italian player Carlo Molfetta.

Which other players and games do you like apart from Taekwondo?

I am deeply inspired by Sunil Chettri. In addition to it, I like Bajrang punia, Mr Sushil, Mr Yogeshwar who changed peoples perspective toward the game. I like to watch wrestling, Badminton and Kabbadi.

Who are the other players who can bring Laurels for India in future?

There is a boy called Navjeet, Akshay Hooda and a girl Latika Bhandari who most probably will represent in 2020 Olympics. There are many other talents also and the Taekwondo era is about to come.

Which was the toughest match of your life?

My toughest challenge was 2012 world university championship where a player from Cuba who was also a gold medalist in Olympics 2012 was there. That was my toughest match. I was 6” and he was 6”11 and that was the first time I saw such a tall man, he was also a olympic bronze medalist and I remember all the events of that match.

What are your future plans and prospects?

My ranking tournaments will start from February from Fujraha, then I have Asian championship followed by President cup in Iran and then I have 4 back to back tournaments in Delhi and I will try to get maximum medals and improve my world ranking.

What is your message for youngsters planning to join Taekwondo?

My advice would be to do regular training, believe in your coach that my coach is the best. Remember what he has taught you and most importantly be grounded and do regular hard work and never stop respecting your coaches.

Note: This interview was originally taken in Hindi and then traslated into english. Interview originally taken by Anubhav Bajpeyee.

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