Today News Online Service
New Delhi, May 21
There are many firsts when it comes to Om Prakash Bhardwaj, who passed away today at age 82 after a prolonged illness. ‘OP Sir’, as he was known in the boxing circles after having given decades to the sport, was among the first coaches to be bestowed with the Dronacharya Award when it was instituted in 1985.
Bhardwaj, who started as a physical instructor in Army Institute of Physical Training, got trained at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala. He was that rare breed who also took classes to train new coaches, including India’s long-time chief coach GS Sandhu.
“It was rare in those days. He seamlessly took the role of a teacher in the classroom and then switched over as a co-trainee when attending the classes. His favourite dress was a white T-shirt and shorts,” Sandhu said, recalling his association with Bhardwaj that started during at NIS in 1976.
“He was very helpful but one thing he would never compromise on was discipline. Here his Army background would always come to the fore. He wouldn’t budge on discipline,” Sandhu added.
Brig (retd) Muralidharan Raja, who was secretary general of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation, said Bhardwaj was the main man in Indian boxing until the early Nineties.
“The first time I met him was ahead of the 1972 Munich Games, when the Indian team was training at the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla (Pune), where I was a cadet,” said Brig Raja, who now heads the Indian Boxing Federation.
“He continued to be the main man from the early Seventies to the Nineties as the Services team dominated the national scene. When we took over, he was part of the selection committee. I remember he would be a big draw whenever we used to travel abroad for the King’s Cup in Manila. He used to apply henna to his hair and as a fair-skinned man, he would stand out in a crowd,” he added.
Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh and his contemporary Akhil Kumar have only fleeting memories of Bhardwaj as by the time they broke into the sub-junior ranks, around 1997, the big old man had all but retired from the active boxing scene and was involved in commentary assignments for important tournaments.
“His demise is a big loss for the boxing fraternity. When I broke into the team, I was told he was a Dronacharya coach. All of us were in awe of him as it was rare to have someone around with the big award,” Vijender said.
For Akhil, Bhardwaj’s voice was cut out for commentary. “He had a deep voice that suited commentary. I had few interactions with him, but I remember him checking up on our training during our camps at the Indira Gandhi Stadium,” the Olympian said.
Bhardwaj outlived his wife by around 10 days — she passed away due to declining health recently.