Mangaluru: The nationwide hoopla over Kambala buffalo race jockeys Srinivas Gowda and Nishanth Shetty running as fast as spring legend Usain Boult has left the Kambala community bewildered.
Events have moved faster than they anticipated, with the Union sports minister Kiren Rijiju getting into the act and activating the sporting establishment to conduct trials of Gowda on the athletics track.
For a sport known for its short burst of exuberance in southern Karnataka, this has all been a bit overwhelming. It’s a strictly administered sport, with an unwritten code. You compete hard and then go back to the life you came from.
When Srinivas Gowda, after being feted by the chief minister of Karnataka and invited to the Sports Authority of India facility in Bengaluru, spoke with modesty and asked not to be compared to Usain Bolt, he was reflecting the value system of the sport.
Now, however, Kambala has become the subject of social argumentation: who is faster, Srinivas Gowda, who ran 142.5 m in 13.62 seconds in a Kambala event at Aikala near Mangaluru on February 1; or Nishanth Shetty who blazed the track, doing 143 m in 13.61 seconds, at Venur 15 days later?
Amid the nationwide attention Kambala is getting, insiders in the sport are chuckling about how it is all so odd. For one thing, neither Srinivas Gowda or Nishanth Shetty are the first Kambala jockeys to have had a tryst with national acclaim.
Many years ago, India’s champion sprinter Anand Shetty, who won medals at the national and Asian championships, used to practice on the Kambala race tracks.
Anand Shetty was a nine-time national champion in 100 m and 200 m events between 1982 and 1989. "He was a big fan of Kambala. He used to practice with buffaloes on the Kambala track. He also ran in the Kambala field during one or two 'free race' events in 1980-81,” said Anand Shetty's close friend Vijay Kumar Kanginamane, a former Kambala jockey.
Yielding only reluctantly to national hype, the Kambala Academy has now decided to train buffalo jockeys on synthetic tracks.
Sources in the folk sport said the media attention was leading to claims and counterclaims, which might lead to unhealthy developments within the Kambala community. The organisers have therefore decided it would be better if they dealt with the issue rather than leave it to outsiders or the government.
After the current Kambala season, which ends in March, they are working out a concrete plan to offer athletics training to Kambala jockeys.
Though the jockeys themselves are not too keen on this, as their running pattern is completely different, Kambala experts think specialized training is worth a try.
"There are many who feel that rural talents could be molded into national athletes. We do not want to deny such a possibility. But our boys have no experience on synthetic tracks. Let alone spikes, Srinivas Gowda has never worn shoes. Once the Kambala events are completed on March 7, these jockeys will rest for two months. After that, we propose to provide them athletic training on the synthetic track at Moodabidri," Kambala Academy founder K Gunapal Kadamba told Deccan Chronicle.
Kadamba is a bemused man in the aftermath of the breathless ardour produced by Srinivas Gowda’s viral sprint.
"Srinivas Gowda is an extraordinary runner. Similarly, Nishanth Shetty has shown his talent. But there are others like Panapila Praveen Kotian who has defeated Shetty and Gowda in some events. Then we have Nasir, who too is very talented. There are a couple of other jockeys who run fast on the track. We will hold a meeting and ask all the interested jockeys to come for training at Moodabidri," he said.
"Vasanth Jogi, the NIS coach trained the boys at the academy. We will seek his services and also see who else can provide the necessary training to these youth on a synthetic track," he said.
"We will provide the training and let SAI officials consider their talent. We had made the same request to the SAI officials during our meeting last week," he said.