INDIA’S track cyclists are making heads turn more for their names rather than smashing records in Birmingham.
But make no mistake, their cyclists have what it takes to be a threat to Malaysia at the Asian Games in Hangzhou next year.
Spectators at the Lee Valley Velodrome were casting second glances each time the names of Indian cyclists David Beckham Elkatohchoongo and Ronaldo Singh Laitonjam were announced.
Together with Rojit Singh, the Indian team finished sixth in the men’s team sprint just behind the Malaysian team led by Olympian Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom on Friday.
Elkatohchoongo, 18, and Laitonjam, 20, were named after the legendary footballers by their respective fathers who were avid football fans.
“My family are diehard supporters of Manchester United,” said Elkatohchoongo when interviewed by the local media.
“My father was a professional footballer before and a big fan of David Beckham. When I was in my mum’s tummy, in the hospital, my dad said ‘when the baby is born he shall be named David Beckham’,
Said Laitonjam: “My father was a really big football fan of the Brazilian Ronaldinho. When I was born in 2002, I think my father made a big bet on Ronaldo. He kicked a goal and I just came out, and that’s how my father named me Ronaldo.”
But unlike his teammate, Laitonjam did not like football and opted for cycling instead.
It was certainly the right call as he earned a stunning silver medal in the recent Asian Championships in New Delhi.
He is the first Indian track cyclist to compete in an Asian meet in the elite ranks.
Laitonjam, Rojit and Esow Alben created history by winning India’s first-ever gold medal at the junior world championships in Germany in 2019.
On Sunday, Laitonjam became the first Indian track cyclist to qualify for the last 16 stage of the men’s sprint at the Commonwealth Games. He lost to Australia’s former world champion Matthew Glaetzer and later admitted the pace of the competition in Birmingham was too much for first-timers like them.
Malaysian coach John Beasley agreed that India would be a team to look out for.
“They are already winning medals at the Asian championships the last few years and are also getting their experience racing in Europe,” said Beasley.
“Age is on their side and they can only improve from here. We will be hearing more from these riders.”
India started to focus on developing track cycling after hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi where a new indoor velodrome was built for the purpose.
And India are slowly but surely getting rewarded for their investment in the sport, which started with Alben’s historic silver in sprint at the world junior meet in 2019.