Fortifying their skills and winning medals in 40s, Seema, Rohan and Zoravar

Indian veterans Seema Punia, Rohan Bopanna, and Zoravar Singh Sandhu show age is nothing but a number at Asian Games.


Fortifying their skills and winning medals in 40s, Seema, Rohan and Zoravar

From L to R: Rohan Bopanna, Seema Punia, Zoravar Singh Sandhu (Image via Twitter)

Age is just a number. If it sounds banal, look at the achievements of three Indian athletes who have shown yet again that they still have the zest to win medals for India at the Asian Games.

At the athletics stadium of the Asian Games in Hangzhou, India’s Seema Punia won a “shot put” bronze medal. At a time when gold and silver medals are pouring in for the Indian track and field stars, Seema is a bit of a rarity. You have teenagers and those in their 20s grabbing the limelight.

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Amidst all this, a 40-year-old woman labors nonchalantly, minus any cribbing. Almost 30 years ago, Seema began as a raw junior. Hailing from Sonepat in Haryana, she was initially into hurdles and a long jump. Being tall and blessed with a robust physique, she shifted to throws. Results were rocking as she won a Junior World Championship gold medal in 2000.

That was twenty-three years ago. Sadly, the sailing was not smooth in the period just after she won that famous medal. She tested positive for pseudoephedrine and her medal was snatched away. There was taint and there was shame. She was in the cooler, forced to take a break.

Related: EXCLUSIVE: AFI President Adille Sumariwalla foresees bright future for India on the global stage similar to Asian Games

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Seema Punia unfazed by naysayers after ban

Nothing deterred her, really. There may have been snide remarks and sarcasm, but year after year, when it comes to the Olympics cycle and Asian Games cycle, Seema is preparing, and training. She knows nothing other than this sport and avoids the media glare. Sunday night was no different as she won a medal and then slipped away. That has been her persona, stay low profile.

Seema Punia Asian Games
Seema Punia in action (Image via The Bridge)

Not long ago, there was a period when only her husband would be talking to the press, as was the case at a function hosted by business magnate LN Mittal in 2012 at the London Olympics. Maybe, she was hurt, she was traumatized. Maybe she wanted none to be part of her story, really. Yet, when you are aged 40 and win a medal in a sport that is so energetic, the six-foot-tall girl-turned-woman does turn heads. She has seen generations come and go.

For long, even those who knew Seema Punia was “not guilty” kept punishing her by not awarding her the coveted Arjuna Award year after year. The reason, she had served a dope ban and was ineligible. Luckily, a couple of years ago, that rule was not used against her and she got the trophy she wanted. To date, none has dared to ask Seema when she will quit or whether she will take up coaching.

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She trains abroad, almost in anonymity. Yet, when the mega Games come, Seema Punia is around, ready to deliver a medal for India. This is an addiction, a “nashaa” as they say in Hindi. Not wanting to give up, not wanting to walk into the sunset.

Tennis veteran Rohan Bopanna shines at Asian Games in Hangzhou

Seema is not the only one from India to be hooked like this. There are two more Indian athletes in their forties, full of hunger. Rohan Bopanna has shown at 43 plus and now heading into the 44th year, he wants to continue. The gold medal in mixed doubles with Rutuja Bhosale in Hangzhou was defining.

Rohan Bopanna India Asian Games
Rohan Bopanna and Rutuja Bhosale at Asian Games

And yet, Rohan has not talked of retirement. The champion left for Shanghai on Monday, where he will be competing in the ATP Masters event with Matt Ebden. It’s a hard life, it’s crazy to keep slogging. But then, when you enjoy what you do and the results come, why stop? Rohan has a fire burning inside him, he wants to compete, he wants to guide youngsters, and also lend a helping hand. All this, at 40 plus by playing and not retiring!

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Seema and Rohan accompanied by Zoravar Singh Sandhu in celebrations

If these two personalities are not enough, enter Zoravar Singh Sandhu, the team gold medal winner in trap shooting. As a college student from Venkateshwara College, he was rubbing shoulders with the big men in the pre-2000 period. That year is remembered as the Y2K year by many when digital resets had become a problem.

Zoravar was in and out. Many youngsters came and went, and one peaked on Sunday to win an individual medal as well, Kynan Chenai. But how did Zoravar make it back? The 46-year-old still shoots in a sport where reflexes, eyesight, and reaction time are so important. It is not as if trap shooting is easy. Yet, the years of experience in sighting the orange clay birds flying at different trajectories and blowing it with the double barrel shotgun is enticing.

Zoravar was there in the individual final as well. Maybe the fading light conditions had troubled him and he did not win one more medal. Maybe, he still sees light at the end of the tunnel. After all, at 46, finding such motivation is a rarity. Crazy or bizarre, you decide!

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