The year was 2004.
The venue was Athens’ Helliniko Olympic Complex where India’s hockey team could not progress beyond the group stages after losing back-to-back games against Australia and New Zealand.
Unable to live up to their illustrious past, a dejected Indian camp had to return home empty-handed from Athens. Among them was a then 24-year-old Viren Rasquinha whose dream of having an Olympic medal remained forever unrequited.
“I loved playing for the Indian hockey team and fulfilled most of my dreams as I got to play in the Olympics and the World Cup. The one disappointment I had though was not winning an Olympic medal as a player,” revealed Rasquinha in a chat with Olympic Channel.
A tough choice
At the age of 28, Rasquinha decided to hang up his stick in 2008 as he wanted to pursue a career in the corporate world; and enrolled for a management course in Hyderabad. “Management was always something I wanted to pursue post my playing career. The decision was just on when I wanted to do it and an opportunity presented itself with the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad,” the former hockey captain said.
Within a year, Rasquinha bagged a job through his school’s campus placement opportunity and was scheduled to start after finishing his course.
But fate would have a different plan as the former Indian half-back would be enticed into rejoining the sporting fray after meeting up with two of India’s leading sports personalities of their era.
“I was scheduled to join that company on 1st June 2009 but before that, I happened to meet Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone who told me about their Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) plan and their dream to help Indian athletes win gold medals at the Olympics.
“Initially, I was not too keen to get back into sports and wanted to test myself in the corporate world. But the OGQ opportunity really intrigued me as it was an opportunity to work with real legends of the game. Secondly, the one disappointment I had was not winning an Olympic medal as a player, so OGQ gave me a very credible platform to pursue that dream through the eyes of the next generation of athletes,” said the hockey veteran.
Rasquinha decided to follow his heart.
What is Olympic Gold Quest?
Olympic Gold Quest or OGQ is an Indian non-profit organisation that came into effect before the 2008 Beijing Games, with an ambition of helping Indian athletes win an Olympic gold medal.
The group was founded by Indian billiards champion Geet Sethi and badminton legend Prakash Padukone. Chess maestro Vishwanathan Anand and many of India's corporate giants along with Rasquinha grace the board of directors roll call.
“When I joined, OGQ was just a dream. We had no funds and no athletes on board,” reveals the former hockey player. The group though soon managed to get rifle shooter Gagan Narang on board and managed to crack deals with a few leading corporates of the time to help with their funding.
Within a few years, they had as many as 15 corporates on board with their programme and also roped in some of the most promising young athletes of the time. “Five out of the last eight Olympic medallists were supported in some form by OGQ, which includes boxer Mary Kom and shooter Vijay Kumar as well as PV Sindhu. Sindhu is someone we have been supporting in her training since she was 14 years old,” revealed Rasquinha.
The group supports athletes by helping them with coaching, training facilities, ensuring they have access to the best doctors, trainers and nutritionists; all while working in tandem with the Indian government and sports authorities.
Mission Tokyo 2020
With several OGQ-supported athletes like Abhishek Verma, Apurvi Chandela and Rahi Sarnobat having already qualified for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, a few more on their roster like Sindhu and Deepika Kumari are expected to make the cut soon.
The group also aids in the training of a few top wrestlers of the land like Vinesh Phogat and Sarita Mor, both of whom will be in action next week at the World Wrestling Championships- one of the qualifying events for Tokyo 2020.
“The shooters who are doing so well, with India having an outstanding World Cup in shooting would be the ones to look forward to at the Olympics,” said Rasquinha when asked about India's prospects for Tokyo 2020.
He added: “Generally, there is always some dark horse emerging at the Games. It was Vijay Kumar in 2012, Sakshi Malik in 2016.”
Any advice to India’s medal hopefuls?
“I think the important thing for the Indian contingent is just to believe in themselves, and to prepare really well, prepare very scientifically, ensure their rest and recovery is right and keep themselves calm in the mind.”
“Winning at the Olympics to a large extent is just about handling the occasion and the pressure,” Rasquinha said before signing off.
While Viren Rasquinha could only get to the league stages of the Olympic Games as a player, his support and guidance through the tireless work of OGQ have helped shape the careers of many subsequent Olympians, ensuring the future of Indian sports remains bright.