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Athletes cut above the rest
In Himachal is an institute which helps athletes enhance their performance - legally. The High Altitude Training Centre is perfect for athletes preparing for sporting events.
In Shilaroo, the apple growing heartland of Himachal Pradesh, about 50 km from the state capital, Shimla, is an institute which helps athletes enhance their performance - legally. This is the institute where wrestlers and weightlifters spent some time before heading for the Commonwealth Games.
The Sports Authority of India-run High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) is the only facility of its kind in India and one of the few in the world. Situated 2, 450 m (8, 000 ft) above sea level, the centre, spread over 34 acres, became operational in November 1996.
Nestled amongst pine and apple trees, the HATC is just about perfect for athletes preparing for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and other sporting events.
"Training at this altitude increases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and this in turn increases the endurance of the athletes. This makes them last longer on the field and bridges that crucial gap between settling for silver or going for gold, " said Jitender Vaidya, former badminton player and coach, who is now in charge of the centre.
Vaidya, who has been looking after the centre for the past five years, says after training here even a five per cent increase in performance makes that crucial difference between finishing first or second.
"Here, the oxygen level is not what it is in the plains. Training in a rarefied oxygen environment makes the heart adjust and enhance its capacity to carry oxygen. A one or two-month stint at the centre and the players are ready to take on the opposition with an advantage which is naturally enhanced. The effects remain for three to four weeks after training is over and gradually decrease. But tournaments hardly last longer than three weeks, so the players are always at their peak stamina-wise, " he said.
The centre has facilities for almost all indoor sports ranging from martial arts, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and fencing to volleyball, basketball, table tennis etc. Two huge halls are kitted out with modern facilities to help train the athletes.
Because of the salubrious climate of the hills, athletes can train here longer too. "Many camps are held here between April and October because the heat is oppressive in the plains and it is virtually impossible for the players to train. Hence, it's but natural that they find it conducive to have a training stint here, " said Vaidya.
The centre also hosts a modern hostel. "We have enough space to hold three camps of different sports simultaneously. Recently, wrestlers and weightlifters preparing for the upcoming Commonwealth Games trained here, " said Vaidya.
Though the camp, he says, mainly benefits athletes in disciplines where endurance is the main requirement, it also caters to player from virtually all disciplines. "Training here benefits long distance runners and cyclists the most, but the reputation of the centre is such that before any major tournament, sportspersons from every sport want to train here, " said Vaidya.
So, this February, the institute also got a state-ofthe-art astroturf. "Earlier, the hockey players used to train at Barog on the roads in front of their hotel! But with the setting up of the astroturf, they can train here. Though we have yet to see the senior team camp here, the junior team attended a camp here. In tournaments, we have seen our boys leading and then in the last moments from a position of strength we tend to lose. It was because they get tired. Hopefully, before a major tournament they can train here and it will certainly benefit their stamina and their staying power, " he said.
At present, a one-month handball camp is on at the centre, where the senior national men's team is preparing for the Asian Games to be held in Guangzhou (China) in November.
The Vaidya said the centre has some major projects lined up for the future. "A synthetic athletics track is going to be installed here. Also in the pipeline is the renovation of the girls' hostel. The boys' hostel was renovated recently and the facilities it offers are as good as any centre in the country, " he said.
The HATC is under the jurisdiction of the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. "Uttarakhand and Karnataka were lobbying to get the centre, but in the end Himachal got it, " said Vaidya.
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