On February 12th 2019, as he turned 18, Bilal Ahmad Dar, India’s medal hope for 2022 Asian games, vowed to slog harder for the Olympics and Commonwealth events, the biggest sporting stages on the planet.
The Kashmiri cyclist has won 18 medals – three silver and one bronze in the Asian championship – and four consecutive golds in junior nationals.
“I am 18 today and will now be eligible to compete at a senior level. I am aiming not only to get a medal at the Asian games but in Olympics and Commonwealth too,” Dar, who trains in Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Stadium and is on a ten day vacation in Kashmir, told News 18.
“The next six years are very crucial. I want to do well for the country,” Dar said, recalling how his obstinacy for not taking meals for eight days had compelled his mother to buy a cycle for one lakh rupees.
“It was a fight which I had to win. It was a promotion from a 2500 rupee cycle to a one which cost one lakh plus,” he chuckles.
“One lakh rupees was a hell lot of money for us. Villagers and relatives wondered what I was upto,” said Dar, who lost his father to an accident eight years back.
The family lives hand to mouth by cultivating paddy, fruit and vegetables. Dar’s grandfather takes care of his two siblings and mother at their home in Chak Kawoosa, a roadside village on the scenic Srinagar-Gulmarg highway.
For the last three years, Dar has been training hard at the IG stadium where coaches have set him a punishing schedule. Here, Dar is exposed to world class coaching, hectic training and world class equipment.
The training has paid off but now he wants to take it to the next level. He has won medals at national and international level in both Pursuit and Velodrome events.
His performance won him accolades not from fellow cyclists but former Indian cricketer VVS Laxman and politician Omar Abdullah.
Congratulations Bilal Ahmad Dar from Budgam, Kashmir for achieving the milestone of winning four Gold medals in a single championship. Slowly emerging as one of the top cyclist of the country. Proud ! pic.twitter.com/VhkjJkwM8N
— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) December 3, 2017
The journey from Kashmir to IG stadium
Dar was spotted by former Indian cyclist and Arjuna Award winner Amar Singh at a talent hunt drive in Srinagar.
“It was raining that day and 200 local athletes were told to compete in multi disciplines at Bakshi Stadium. I stood first,” recalls Dar.
In the next few days, Singh persuaded Dar to come to Delhi and train under him. He asked his mentor and guide Rifat Abdullah – a popular journalist and social activist – to convince his family of his potential in sport.
“The rest is known. I shifted to Delhi where I am training hard under the watchful eyes of best coaches,” he said.
The little success he has achieved as of today has not come through a shortcut.
“Every morning I cycle between 80 to 120 km for around 4 to 5 hours. Sometimes in stadium and some times I do road cycling,” he says.
“In the evening after school, I train for another three hours at the gym. This is a regimen I have been following since last three years,” he added.
Dar says now that he will get to complete at a senior level, he needs to double the effort.
“In the next six years, I will be competing with the best in the world and God willing play major championships,” he says.
“I have played Asian championship on four occasions. If picked for the team, I will play Asian games, Commonwealth and Olympics,” he said.
His schooling, lodging, board, food, travel and leisure has been taken care of by Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Cyclist Federation of India.
“I have no complaints. Today I use Calvero – world’s topmost cycle brand – for practice and the best facilities. The cycle costs 10 lakh rupees. I hope to repay the country by winning medals,” he stated.
While SAI and CFI have given him top class facilites, the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council have not spent a penny on him. Head coach Amar Singh had recently written to the Council to raise Rs 10 lakh for him, but one secretary level officer said he has no money even though huge grants have come to the state under different sports programmes.
“I had to raise ten thousands rupees for his tickets and travel when Singh sir told me to send him to Delhi,” rues Abdullah. “But tough times are over for him. I think it is payback time,” he said.
Amar Singh, Dar’s chief coach told News 18 from Canada that “he is a medal material for India”.
“We are training him and he has all the talent to go to next level. I wish state buys him the best equipment. So far they haven’t,” he said.
“We are sending him abroad for training and exposure. He is our best bet currently,” he added.
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