Shillong, Apr 2: There is a tremendous level of natural talent within Meghalaya’s teenage athletes and, with dedication, the right training and guidance, they could reach Olympic heights in a few years, according to Ian Campbell, an Australian ex-Olympian himself.

Today was the second day of the Elite Pathway Programme (EPP) camp at the SAI Centre in NEHU here. It is being organised by the Meghalaya State Olympic Association in collaboration with the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs, Government of Meghalaya.

Assistant Director of Sports & Youth Affairs, Paia B War Nongbri, visited the centre today to inspire the young sportspersons. He also felt sure that, at the next stage, they will definitely have grown in their athletic abilities.

The athletes selected for the camp comprised the best 200 out of thousands that were tested at the district level. They were chosen based on their performance in a series of standardised tests according to set benchmarks.

Yesterday saw the youngsters put through their paces through the same series of tests but with a higher benchmark. Impressively, 90 percent of them have shown significant improvements since the beginning of the talent identification programme last year.

Some of them are up to international level standards as far as the test results go. Campbell, of EDGE10 and ARMS PT, who conduct the tests and training, pointed to a few results in his daily briefing with the coaches, saying that in the 20m sprint, the top two girls were at a relatively young 14 years of age and a total of nine beat the benchmark. Fourteen-year-old girls also did well in the vertical jump test, with the top three in this age.

Among the boys, a 16-year-old basketballer managed to achieve a height of 89cm in the vertical jump, which Campbell described as “just fantastic”.

“This is all irrefutable evidence of massive talent in Meghalaya. The athletes have absolutely obliterated the benchmarks,” he said.

Out of the last nine months, Campbell has been in Meghalaya for three and a half and has been to every district as part of the initial talent hunt.

“What we’ve found is that Meghalaya athletes are extremely naturally talented with an emphasis on speed and power. That is a great base to start with. What we’ve seen with the testing here (at the EPP) is an incredible improvement. Anecdotally, 90 percent of the athletes have improved significantly, which is quite astounding, and have delivered world-class performances. Now the challenge is to take these athletes to the national and international level in a few years,” Campbell, a former long jumper, said.

Monday will largely be reserved for coaches, although one batch of footballers will also take part in drills and match practice under former Denmark World Cupper and Manchester United footballer Jesper Olsen of Future Football.

The development of coaches is a major part of the whole talent programme as it takes a great coach to make a talented athlete.

“Part of our mission is to develop coaching infrastructure in Meghalaya – introduce new concepts, ideas, training practices,” Campbell explained, adding that webinars will be introduced to support the 30-plus coaches in their endeavour to develop their athletes and themselves. “We want them to get to a level where they are capable of managing the athletes and hand them over (for further development). Our aim is to look for one or two athletes who can get to the Commonwealth or Olympic Games or play in the English Premier League. At the same time, we hope to develop a coach to become a national-level coach in India. That’s part of the legacy we hope to leave.”

(Meghalaya State Olympic Association photo)

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