The tiny district of Coorg (Kodagu) in Karnataka has the distinction of sending seven out of the 118 Indian sportspersons for this year’s Rio Olympics starting on Friday in Brazil.
Some anthropologists have described the Kodavas (Coorgs) as rugged, athletic and erstwhile war-like people who used to join the Indian army in multitudes for love of anything adventurous. Earlier, war and agriculture were their only occupation. Their martial desires did not abate after Independence as well considering each family had at least one member serving in the defence services.
Natural affinity and motivation for Coorg youngsters to indulge in the sporting arena could be their genetic and martial capabilities and free spirited attitude wanting to be exhibited and tested in both – physical endurance and sporting spirit.
The quartet representing the Indian hockey team are Sannuvanda Kushalappa Uthappa, Chendanda Nikkin Thimmaiah, Sunil Somwarpet Vittalacharya, and Vokkaliga Ramachandra Raghunath.
Machettira Raju Poovamma will be spearheading the Indian women 4x400m relay team at Rio, Machimanda Ashwini Ponnappa will be part of the Indian shuttle team and Machanda Rohan Bopanna will be a part of the Indian tennis team in the Olympics.
Here is a low down on each of the seven sportsperson bound for Rio de Janeiro:
S K Uthappa, hailing from Devarapura near Gonikoppa was conferred recently with the Ekalavya award. Part of the Indian team in the 2012 London Olympics, he said: “It is great that we have four players from Kodagu in the Olympic team. Making my second appearance in the Olympics gives me a high but I am looking to contribute to the team’s success.”
The young Gonikoppal forward, Uthappa, left an indelible mark at every stage right from being adjudged the best player in the 2011 Senior National championship in Bhopal where Karnataka finished runners-up.
Uthappa made his international debut against South Africa in 2012 during the first match of the Karbonn Cup Hockey five-match Test series. Based on his performances against South Africa, Uthappa was selected to play in the 2012 Olympic qualification tournament. He went on to play in all 6 matches in the tournament scoring one goal in the first match against Singapore.
His body feint is admirable and sense of passing good and has matured and evolved superbly as a player. All eyes will be on this young Kodava lad who has the potential to scale greater heights.
His mother, Neeraj Kushalappa felt Uthu as he is fondly known “started playing hockey as a forward at the tender age of eight and his record in the junior state-level tournament still holds strong for scoring the highest number of goals (16) in 5 matches while representing the Coorg team”. She added he was focused from the tender age on any responsibility be it studies or sports.
Twenty-year-old forward Nikkin Thimmaiah, a product of SAI, Bangalore will be making his debut in the Rio Olympics after he proved his class in the recently held Hockey Champions Trophy. He also figured in the 2014 Asian games and Commonwealth games.
The St. Joseph’s Commerce College graduate, was a keen athlete, who had won 400 metre silver at the junior Open Nationals. Thanks to his father C.T Aiyanna, former ASC player, Nikkin entered late but with a bang.
Having made his foray into the national camp under chief coach Roelant Oltmans, Nikkin believes his game has improved vastly.
Twenty-eight-year-old star forward, S.V Sunil made his senior international debut in the 2007 Asia Cup in Chennai, the tournament that India won. The 2011 Champion’s Challenge was an early high point in his career in which he scored four goals, the most by an Indian forward. Sunil is regarded as one of the fastest player in the game – whizzing his way through as a winger from right and left with tremendous pace dribbling past defenders with deft mesmerizing sliding tackles and speedy run along the ball.
This will be Sunil’s second Olympics. Sunil has come a long way from using bamboo as a stick. Born to a poor family, he lost his mother at the age of four. His father worked as a carpenter and his brother, a goldsmith.
Twenty-eight-year-old V. R. Raghunath plays as a fullback and is known for his abilities as a drag flicker. Raghu as he is known among his team-mates, has turned out to be an ace defender and drag-flicker. He is keen to dish out a sturdy performance and put up a good show.
Twenty-six- year-old, Kodavathi sprinter Machettira Raju Poovamma competes in the 400 metres event. Poovamma participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is currently ranked No.2 in Asia in the 400 meter category. Poovamma was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award 2015 for her contributions in the field of athletics.
Poovamma will be spearheading the Indian women 4x400m relay team at Rio based on her personal best (PB) individual 51.73 sec.
Twenty-eight-year-old charming Kodavathi, Machimanda Ashwini Ponnappa pairing up with the senior pro Jwala Gutta is an elite Indian badminton player who represented the country at the international badminton circuit in both the women’s and mixed doubles disciplines.
Ashwini and Jwala participated at the 2012 London Olympics together and missed the quarterfinals by a whisker under controversial circumstances.
However, both seem to have evolved into better players since that debacle. Their game has improved vastly owing to the experience of playing together and the addition of doubles specialist coach Kim Tan Her in 2015 should see them reach the top two in their group in order to qualify for the quarter-finals which would be the minimum expectation from the pair.
And if they manage to make it there, they stand a good chance to come back home with an Olympic medal.
Thirty-six-year-old strapping Kodava Indian professional tennis player Machanda Rohan Bopanna by virtue of making it into the top 10 of the ATP Doubles Rankings in June 2016, sealed a berth for India.
This is Bopanna’s second Olympics after partnering Mahesh Bhupathi at London 2012, where the pair was ousted in the second round.
Bopanna will pair with 43-year-old Leander Paes at the Rio Olympics. The combined ranking of the Indian pair may not be high enough but their combined strength is in their consistent style of play and vast experience together. Paes is often considered among the best in the world and Bopanna is highest ranked Indian on tour, making them a formidable force to reckon with, and the recent performance in the Davis Cup will only serve to increase their confidence.
Bopanna and Paes are among the top international men’s doubles players and if they manage to bury their differences, they are capable of beating the best and fetching an Olympic medal for India.
Bopanna was nominated in 2010 as a Champion for Peace by Monaco-based organization, Peace and Sport for his efforts in bridging political barriers through sports.
People of Coorg are confident that their boys and girls will succeed in bringing home a few Olympic medals from Rio.