Complete story: Kambala star, 'India's Usain Bolt' Srinivas Gowda turns down SAI trials
New Delhi, Feb 17 (AFP/IANS/WIRES): Srinivas Gowda, the Kambala star who gained international recognition overnight, has refused to take part in a track and field trial hosted by the Indian Sports Ministry.
This was after Gowda's record-setting performance in a traditional Kambala race drew comparisons with Olympic sprint legend Usain Bolt.
Srinivas Gowda and his buffaloes ran 142.5 metres in 13.62 seconds, setting a record in the annual Kambala race held at Aikala village, about 30 km from Mangaluru, in Karnataka.
With a time that equates to running 100 metres in 9.55 seconds, compared to the retired Bolt's world record of 9.58 seconds, social media buzz erupted over the chiselled construction worker.
But with the Tokyo Olympics looming in July, Gowda politely declined an invitation from India's sports minister to try out at the Sports Authority of India in Bengaluru.
"I will not be attending trials at Sports Authority of India. I want to achieve more in Kambala," Gowda, 28, told Indian media.
"Kambala and track events are different and those who have done well in one cannot replicate in the other.
"Many who have achieved in track events have tried Kambala and have not been successful. In Kambala we run on heels whereas in a track it is on toes."
Kambala is an annual race where racers splash 142 metres through paddy fields holding a rope attached to two buffaloes, who run ahead of them.
Many users have noted that the runners are pulled along by the buffaloes, who are lashed together.
"Never in my dream did I think that I would be so famous. The credit should go to my buffaloes," said Gowda.
"I could achieve this only because they cooperated with me."
'No Olympic sprinter all of a sudden'
Earlier on Saturday, an organiser of the annual race said that the ace Kambala jockey Srinivas Gowda cannot become an Olympic sprinter all of a sudden.
"Some may think that Kambala race may be far better than an Olympic race as it happens in a wet field with barefooted competitors, but Gowda cannot be an Olympic star all of a sudden," Kambala Academy convenor and chairman Gudapa Kadamba told reporters.
He said Olympic sprints happen on synthetic tracks with participants wearing spiked shoes whereas Kambala athletes run barefoot alongside an animal in a wet field, holding a rope tied to them.
"We have to scientifically judge if Gowda like Kambala racers are eligible to run with spiked shoes on synthetic tracks and vice versa. Can an Olympic sprinter run in a wet field barefoot alongside buffaloes," asked Kadamba, a Kambala sports administrator for the past 50 years.
Gowda (28), a construction worker, took just 13.62 seconds to cover a distance of 145 metres at the Kambala race.
He took just 9.55 seconds to run a distance of 100 metres and netizens were quick to point out that he was faster than eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt. Bolt currently holds the world record in the 100m race at 9.58 seconds in 2009.
Resembling wind-assisted finishes in athletics, Kadamba said we cannot rule out the possibility of Gowda being aided by the pull of the running buffaloes as he sprinted alongside them, holding a rope fastened to the buffaloes.
Likewise, Kadamba said Kambala organisers have gotten the measurement of the race's finishing stages accurate with laser beam network system and electronic timing, but it required some more work to gain precision and automation in the initial stages of the measurement.
"Actually, we have to measure the track first of all. The track is entirely different from place to place. So, the accuracy of the starting point also has to be perfect," noted the retired Kannada literature lecturer.
'Government should be more practical'
Meanwhile, beaming with pride at Gowda's feat, Kadamba said the government should be more practical while inviting him to Delhi to meet with Sports Authority of India (SAI) officials for a trial.
"The sports department should be practical because if you call Gowda on Saturday and ask him to come to Delhi on Monday, it is not practically possible," said Kadamba reflecting on Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju's tweet that a train ticket has been booked for Gowda on Saturday.
Rijiju tweeted, "Officials from SAI have contacted him. His rail ticket is done and he will reach SAI centre on Monday. I will ensure top national coaches to conduct his trials properly. We are team @narendamodi ji and will do everything to identify sports talents."
Kadamba said Gowda is presently busy with the human-buffalo team running in different competitions till March 7 in multiple places, including Kasargod in Kerala, which will prevent him from breaking away from the committed schedule.
"Gowda has given an oral commitment to the buffalo team members. I don't think he will break it and go to Delhi for SAI evaluation. Already four buffalo owners of different categories are dependent on Gowda," he said.
Kadamba also said that somebody needs to accompany Gowda, who studied till the seventh standard and cannot speak Hindi or English and is also not proficient in Kannada.
Interestingly, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddiyurappa is planning to felicitate Gowda in Bengaluru on Monday, which Kadamba confirmed that Gowda will attend.
According to him, Gowda is right now super exhausted as the Kambala races stretch from 24 to 36 hours.
Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra also celebrated Gowda's feat by tweeting, "Now either Rijiju provides him training as a 100m sprinter or we get Kambala to become an Olympic event. Either way, we want a gold medal for Srinivas."
Kadamba also invited SAI officials to visit the Kambala Academy and see the training facilities. The academy is located at Shirlal and Miyar Kambala stadium in Udupi district, 370 km west of Bengaluru.
Rijiju calls 'India's Usain Bolt' for trials
Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju had on the same day called Srinivasa Gowda for trials to be hosted by the Sports Ministry after he set the new record as the fastest runner in the history of the traditional sport of the coastal region.
"I'll call Karnataka's Srinivasa Gowda for trials by top SAI Coaches. There's lack of knowledge in masses about the standards of Olympics especially in athletics where ultimate human strength & endurance are surpassed. I'll ensure that no talents in India are left out untested," tweeted Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on Saturday.
One of the tweets read: "Here's India's very own USAIN BOLT..Mr. Srinivasa Gowda from Karnataka who ran a 100m buffalo race (Kambala) in merely 9.55 seconds whereas Usain Bolt's world record is 9.58 seconds. Thank you @KirenRijiju Sir for acknowledging such talent!"
Shashi Tharoor had earlier tweeted: "Faster Than Usain Bolt? Karnataka Man Running With Buffaloes Covers 100 Metres in Just 9.55 Seconds. I urge the Athletics Association of India to take this man under their wing & make an Olympic champion of him. Wonder how many hidden talents we have!"
To reiterate, the 28-year-old is a construction worker and took just 13.62 seconds to cover a distance of 145 metres at the Kambala at Aikala village about 30 kilometres from Mangaluru.
Srinivasa took just 9.55 seconds to run a distance of 100 metres and netizens were quick to point out that he was faster than eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt.
What is Kambala?
Kambala is an annual race held in Karnataka where people sprint 142 metres through paddy fields with buffalos. Traditionally, it is sponsored by local Tuluva landlords and households in the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. The Kambala season generally starts in November and lasts until March. The Kambalas are organised through Kambala Samithis (Kambala Associations) of which there are currently 18. Over 45 races are held annually in coastal Karnataka, including smaller remote villages such as Vandaru and Gulvadi.