Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Making of Champions – two real stories (Karoly Takacs & Sachin Tendulkar)


Let this note find you full with enthusiasm & energy to deal with the various challenges & excitement life is offering you!!

One of my recent favorite books has been “The habit of winning” By Prakash Iyer. It is written in very simple language. It contains lots of real life inspiring short stories. The interesting part was that when I got the book, I simply could not put it down. I used to sneak every 5 minutes I had between two meetings or any other work to read one more story.

The following two stories on “Making of Champions” are taken from this book. You may find them inspiring.


1.    Karoly Takacs – Pistol shooter

Karoly was a sergeant in the Hungarian army. In 1938, the twenty-eight-year-old was the country’s top pistol shooter, having won most major national and international championships. He was--by a mile--the favourite to win gold at the 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Then, disaster struck.

At an army training session, a hand grenade accidentally exploded in Karoly’s Hand. And blew it away. His shooting hand. Not only did his entire Olympic dream crash, he also lost a limb.

‘Why me?’ Karoly could have been excused for asking the question most of us would have asked. You would understand it too if he wallowed in self-pity, an understandable reaction for someone after such a tragic turn of events. You would sympathize with him if he were to become a recluse, a living example of how fate can devastate the best-laid plans.

Oh no, not Karoly. He was made of sterner stuff.

Instead of focusing on what he had lost--his right hand, his potentially gold medal-winning shooting hand--he chose to focus on what he still had. He had mental strength, the mindset of a winner, the determination to succeed and yes, a healthy left hand. A left hand which, he thought, he could train and transform into the world’s best shooting hand.

After a month in hospital, Karoly went out and, away from the glare of the world, began practicing to shoot with the left hand. Despite the pain his body still reeled under, despite the strain the left hand had to undergo to also do all that the right hand had earlier done, he stayed focused on his goal: to make his left hand the best shooting hand in the world.

One year later, Karoly resurfaced at the national shooting championship in Hungary. His colleagues were delighted to see him. They complimented him on his courage, and his fabulous gesture of coming over to see them shoot. But they were taken aback when Karoly told them that he wasn’t there to see them shoot; he was there to compete with them.

And compete he did. In fact, Karoly won the championship. Just one year after losing his right hand. He won with his left hand.

Karoly’s decision to practice quietly, away from scrutiny, was significant. It is easy for people to ridicule you for dreaming big. It is also very easy for you to stay afloat in your misery for a sympathy wave laps at you from all over.

Unfortunately for Karoly, his Olympic dream remained unrealized for a while, as two successive Games were cancelled due to the world war.

In 1948, the Olympics came to London. Karoly was chosen to represent Hungary in the pistol shooting event. And he won gold. Shooting with his left hand.

Imagine being a gold medal favourite, losing your shooting hand in an accident, yet picking yourself up from the shattered mess, training your left hand to shoot as well or better, and going on to win the Olympic gold.

Four years later. Helsinki Olympics. Pistol shooting event. Who won gold? No surprises here. Karoly Takacs.

That is the stuff champions are made of.

2.     ‘Main Khelega!’ (I will play….): Sachin Tendulkar

24 February 2010: An entire nation erupted with joy as Sachin Tendulkar became the first cricketer to score a double century in a One-day International. In 2961 previous games in international cricket, no man had been able to go on the 200-run mark. And it was only fitting that the man with highest number of runs in Test and One-day cricket (and the highest number of centuries in both forms of the game) had achieved the feat.

As newspapers filled column space with stories and vignettes chronicling the life of India’s greatest cricketer, I thought about my favourite Sachin story. It’s a story that Navjot Singh Sidhu, former Indian cricketer-turned-politician, loves to tell. While the world rises to salute a truly outstanding cricketer, this little tale probably explains, in some small measure, the making of genius. A giant among men. The little Legend!   

December 1989, Sialkot, Pakistan. It was the fourth Test match of the India--Pakistan series. And, as it happens, just the fourth Test of Sachin’s career.

Making his debut at sixteen, the cherub-faced, fuzzy-haired Sachin had already won admirers, being widely seen as a precocious talent. However, several young stars had sparkled briefly in India’s cricketing firmament and then, almost as suddenly, faded away—a gross injustice to their enormous talents. Let down on the long highway to success by a faltering mental make-up, that didn’t quite back up their reserves of talent. Would Sachin go the same way? Was he being blooded too early for his own good?

The series was level 0-0 after three Tests. Despite conceding first innings lead of 65 in the fourth Test, Pakistan hit back strongly through blistering spells from Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, reducing India to 38 runs for 4 wickets in their second innings. India was suddenly staring at defeat, with which they would lose the series too.

In walked Sachin to join Sidhu. Experienced pros like Sanjay Manjrekar and Kris Srikkanth, Mohammed Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri had found the Pak attack too hot to handle and were back in the pavilion. How would the new kid on the block cope?

Waqar bowled a nasty bouncer that went smack on Sachin’s nose. The poor boy was badly hit and his nose began to bleed profusely. It made for a sad sight on TV, and most women watching were convinced that there ought to be a law to prevent a sixteen-year-old from being subjected to such brutality.

As the Indian team physiotherapist rushed to offer first-aid and the Pakistanis gathered to check out the bloody sight, Sidhu recalls walking down to a shaken—and still bleeding—Sachin. As the physio tried to stop the bleeding, Sidhu suggested to Sachin that he should retire hurt and come out later. That would give him time to get his nose fixed, regain his composure and hopefully return to a less menacing attack. ‘Go take a break,’ said Sidhu. He feared this might just be the end of another promising career.

‘Come in, I’ll attend to you,’ said the helpful physio.

But Sachin brushed them away, almost annoyed that they should even suggest that he walk away. ’Main khelega!’’ he said. ‘I’ll play.’ And, in that moment, says Sidhu, a star was born. Those two words verbalized the fierce determination of a young man who wasn’t going to quit.

Sachin could have gone into the relative comfort of the dressing room but he didn’t. People watching would have understood but he knew his heart wouldn’t understand. The heat was on. India was in trouble. The pace attack had its tail up. The blood was staining his gloves, his shirt, his face, his spirit.

But the kid would have none of it. Main Khelega it was. Sachin went on to score 57 runs and shared in the match-saving 101-run partnership with Sidhu. With two words--main khelega--talent transformed into genius, that day in Sialkot.

It’s always like that. What separates champions from mere mortals is not just talent. It’s attitude. It’s mental strength. It’s the willingness to fight when the chips are down. It’s the main khelega spirit. The spirit that puts the team’s need ahead of one’s own interest. Main khelega say’s it’s not just about me, it’s about my team.

There are times in our lives when the pressure mounts and we feel like throwing in the towel and calling it quits. That’s just the time when you need to put your hand up and be counted. Time to say main khelega.

As a leader, you may often feel that the world is conspiring to knock you down. You may be looking to win but defeat stares you in the face. At times like these, all a leader looks for is a few good men in his team. For people who say main khelega. And this spirit is contagious. As one man puts his hand up, another hand goes up. And another. And a team starts believing in itself. In its ability to fight, and win.

Warm regards,

Rohan Singal

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