Odisha cyclist Dinesh Kumar clinched a Gold in the U-21, 30 Km Road Race event, with a timing of 40:11 at the Khelo India Youth Games 2020 in Guwahati on Sunday.
That he would become a champion one day was nowhere in the mind of the fourth of five children of a small time shopkeeper in Rourkela. Of course he used to love zipping around the neighbourhood on a bike, doing odd jobs for his father. What he did not know was that cycling would end up becoming a passion, then an obsession and finally his life’s calling.
“I just liked something about cycling ever since I was a kid,” 19-year-old Dinesh said, after winning the Under-21 Time Trial gold medal on Sunday, the first for his state Odisha, that is aspiring to become the sports capital of India.
“I got inspired by an elderly cycling fanatic that I used to see every day. Like him, I too simply pulled out my bike whenever I felt like and went on long rides. It used to be so peaceful and energising,” he declared.
Even though he has been creating waves on the national circuit for some time now, Dinesh remains a small-town boy at heart. “How many times will they announce my name?” he winced, as the MJ read out the results for the nth time.
The Air Force employee didn’t even realise that he had created a record of sorts in the Khelo India Youth Games already: he has won the first ever Gold medal in cycling, a sport that made its debut here.
“In 2015, I went to Kerala for the national track championships and performed well enough to get selected to enter SAI, Delhi. That’s when my journey in cycling truly began,” he explained, tracing his rise.
Two years later, he was picked up by the Indian Air Force and he has been practicing at the NIAS, Patiala since then.
“I come from a family that has never been inclined towards competitive sport. We just couldn’t afford it. But my father encouraged me after seeing my passion for cycling,” he said.
The first day of the cycling competition here on Sunday was a typical day out for Dinesh. Sporting a jersey inspired by the cycling team of Great Britain, he produced a flawless performance that would have made Bradley Wiggins proud.
It was no mean achievement, though, as the field boasted of 2019 Junior National Time trials (30 Km) champion Manish Kumar as well as 40 Km National silver medallist GT Gagan Reddy.
“It was a good but tough course. It was not easy to maintain speed because of the bends, and also as the road was a bit bumpy at places. But it didn’t bother me too much,” he said.
With a medal in his kitty, Dinesh will be in action in the road race on Monday too. He is also part of the pursuit in the track events.
But his fellow competitors, many of them close friends, are already asking him for the mandatory treat.
“Everyone is already asking for a party,” he laughed. “But there are more events, then maybe…”