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Rajeev Balakrishnan, former Indian Olympian, now an Aussie athletics coach

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Like most Australians last week, former Indian Olympian Rajeev Balakrishnan was pleased to hear that Brisbane was the official pick to host the 2032 Olympics.

“It’s just a different atmosphere when the Olympic Games are on. This is really going to put the city on the map,” he told Indian Link with a smile.

Considered one of India’s fastest sprinters in the 90’s, Balakrishnan has been a proud Brisbanite for over two decades. He now trains athletics hopefuls at the University of Queensland.

His participation in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, in India’s 4×100 relay team, is still fresh in his mind.

“It felt great to represent the country at that stage,” he recalled. “It’s a great personal accomplishment for me. For most of us, just getting to qualify and compete at the Olympics level is an achievement.”

READ ALSO: Reminiscing on the 2000 Sydney Olympics, twenty years later

rajeev balakrishnan 1994
Source: supplied

Of course as a track-and-field athlete, one of his stand-out memories from 2000 is being in the stadium when Cathy Freeman won the 400 metres finals, cheered on by a 100,000 strong crowd.

It left an unforgettable mark at the Games, Rajeev reminisced.

“It was amazing. The whole stadium was silent as we watched on. I had met her previously at international athletics meets before the Olympics, and it was amazing to be a part of that moment when she won.”

His own athletics journey began in the eighth grade when he signed up for a school competition back in Nagpur, India. By the time he was 18, his talents were rewarded with a sports scholarship to the University of Iowa. He competed in collegiate athletics for four years, even coming close to breaking the late Milkha Singh’s national record at the time with a personal best of 21.44 seconds in the 200 metres at Long Beach, California.

That same year, he was selected to join India’s 4×100 relay team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

As for this year’s Olympics, Balakrishnan awaits the track and field events that begin on 30 July.

As an athletics coach, where he trains in the 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, and hurdles, he’s keeping an eye on the UQ hopefuls representing the country. This year marks one of Australia’s largest Olympics Athletics teams ever with 63 in the squad.

“Ash Moloney is a really promising decathlete to look out for. Australia also has some really great chances in the javelin throw and high jump,” he offered.

rajeev balakrishnan coaching
Balakrishnan coaching a young student. Source: supplied

In the Indian squad, Balakrishnan notes javelin star Neeraj Chopra, who won gold at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and set the world junior record of 86.48 metres.

The 50-year-old is candid in explaining what it takes to be an Olympian.

“After a certain age, every athlete is dedicated and works hard. The important element is finding your ‘event’, finding what suits your ability and physicality, and working at it,” he shared. “Admittedly, there’s a lot of luck involved as well, to meet the right people at the right time like coaches and mentors.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been much discussion around the need to hold the Olympic Games in these times. What does he think about the games being held?

“Athletes train for years for this moment which only comes once every four years. They spent their whole life working towards this. For audiences, it’s a great way to see different cultures and sports on one platform.”

“The Olympic Games are an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate what people can achieve,” he stated.

WATCH: The official cheer song for Team India at Tokyo Olympics


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Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath is a writer and editor based in Sydney. In 2022, she was named Young Journalist of the Year at the NSW Premier's Multicultural Communications Awards.

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