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Cycling to FAME

Karyavattom is fast emerging as the hub of professional cycling in the State.


WALK ALONG the National Highway between Karyavattom junction and Kazhakootam in the wee hours of the morning, and chances are that you would run into a group of youngsters cycling along the road. Most of these cyclists, in the age group of 12 to 25, are the flag-bearers of the State in the national cycling circuit. They represented Kerala at the National Cycling Championship held in Ludhiana, last year, and also bagged 33 medals. Not an easy feat that.

In fact, 30 of these medals were won by youngsters from economically backward families, in and around Karyavattom.The Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education (LNCPE) sports college, run by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), under the aegis of the Youth Affairs and Sports department (Ministry of Human Resource Development) was established at Karyavattom in 1985. Since then, the LNCPE has been training students to participate at the State and National levels.

Things at LNCPE began to look up when Usha T. Nair, a regular medal winner in cycling for Kerala in the Eighties, took over as the coach in 1986.

The SAI authorities gave their consent to coach children from neighbouring households and soon, free summer coaching camps were being conducted every year. The initial response was lukewarm. "But the numbers have gradually increased. Last year, about 45 children attended our camp," says Usha. After each camp, select students are made to continue with the coaching; the practice sessions are held at 5-30 a.m. and 5 p.m. during schooldays.

The `Douglas Memorial Cycling Club', registered in 1988, enables these children to participate in various cycling competitions. The club takes its name after Subramania Pillai (nee Douglas), who was the former Deputy Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram and former chief of the State Cycling Association.

Later, in 2000, another club, `LNCPE Cycling Centre', was set up to promote the sport. In 1991, the SAI introduced schemes such as the Centre of Excellence (COE) under which National level winners are given a monthly stipend of Rs. 3,000. Besides the stipend, they are entitled to facilities such as free medical aid and tournament participation fee. The winners are also given sports kits. Another scheme, `The Special Centre Training' (SCT), that is open to the State level winners entitles them to a monthly stipend of Rs. 500.


Other perks too come their way. For instance, cyclists pursuing academics get grace marks in their examinations on the basis of their achievements. Various Government departments such as the Railways offer employment opportunities to up-and-coming champions.

"Winners of State and National meets can land jobs easily," says Anitha Andrews, a lower division clerk at the Fisheries Directorate, Vikas Bhavan. Anitha has been a regular medal winner at the cycling championships.

Today, young aspirants are forced to cope with problems such as the lack of state-of-the art equipment and absence of adequate number of coaches.

"We still practice on the cycling equipment brought here for the Asian Cycling Championship in 1989. The equipment is outdated yet we train ourselves on it and compete with those who use hi-tech ones," laments H. S. Prince, a bronze medal winner at the All India Inter University Championship.

It was negligence on the part of the authorities concerned, which led to the death of Shiny Sailus, a budding cyclist. Shiny died in a road accident two years ago while participating in the Road Cycling Championship at Manjeri. A truck collided with her cycle killing her on the spot. "Had the authorities been more careful, the accident could have been averted," says Rajani, her friend. This unfortunate incident led to the enforcement of certain measures to prevent such mishaps during competitions. Traffic control is now stringent with police deployed at main junctions and hairpin turns.

Signs of change are now visible, thanks to the Kerala Sports Council, which has set up a hostel at Karyavattom to facilitate training for cyclists. "Karyavattom is fast emerging as the hub of professional cycling in the State. Hostel facility will enable these young enthusiasts to use the velodrome (venue for cycling competitions) at the LNCPE. The hostel will begin functioning soon," says C. Mohana Chandran, president, Kerala Sports Council.

With the vacations beginning and another summer camp ahead, the children in and around Karyavattom are all set to prove their mettle on the cycling circuits.

A. V. AADHARSH

Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

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