The Indian Boxing fraternity recently mourned the loss of Om Prakash Bhardwaj, one of the most revered Boxing icons of the nation. The recipient of the first Dronacharya Award in 1985, O P Bhardwaj held the position of India’s National Boxing Team Coach from 1968 to 1989.
O P Bhardwaj: Rise Of An Enigma
O P Bhardwaj was born on 18th March, 1942 at Gujranwala in Pakistan. After Partition, he, along with his parents, migrated to the city of Delhi and settled down at Tagore Garden. At the dawn of his career, Bhardwaj used to be a Havaldar with Army Physical Training Corps (APTC), in the Army School of Physical Training (Pune). For a short period, he became a boxer himself.
After Pune, he moved on to the Army Corps’ Madras Engineer Group (MEG), based in Chennai. He finally became a coach, and also acquired a Boxing diploma from the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala, thus becoming one of the first Indian coaches to do so. The NIS first proposed coaching diplomas in Boxing, back in 1975, and Bharadwaj was selected as the first instructor. He was also the chief instructor for Boxing at the NIS.
O P Bhardwaj: Illustrious Coaching Career
The first recognisable job of O P Bhardwaj as a Boxing coach was with Services. He remained with them for quite a long time frame, during which Services was almost an unbeatable team. They would dominate and win most of the National Championships at the time quite easily and also fill up all the slots available in the 12 weight categories, for international tournaments.
Bhardwaj would go on to take up the reigns of the Indian National team in 1968 and continue till 1989, a period which saw India win a host of international Boxing medals, mainly at the Asian tournaments. The years from 1970 to 1986 saw arguably his most successful years as the National team coach. He was the silent reason behind the rise of some of the most incredible pugilists that India has ever produced, including Birender Thapa, Kaur Singh, J L. Pradhan, Hawa Singh, Jaipal Singh, MK Rai, G Madan, etc. He was a mainstay of India’s Boxing contingent at multiple Asiad, Kings Cup, World Cups, Commonwealth and Olympic Games, and a lot of other international tournaments.
O P Bhardwaj had a very straightforward approach to coaching – owing to the lack of coaching literature (tactics and technique), his focus was always centered around the production of physically strong boxers. He was an extremely hardworking man and expected nothing less from his wards. In the words of Munuswamy Venu, former India boxer-turned-coach , “He strapped weights to our bodies and made us run for miles… sometimes in the sand. Very rigorous physical training to make us stronger…”. [Source: The Indian Express] He ran a tight and strict training and would often get involved in parts of the regimen himself to motivate and get the best out of his students.
O P Bhardwaj and his students
One of his earliest pupils during his time as the chief Boxing instructor at NIS was a ‘then unknown’ Gurbax Singh Sandhu who would go on to become the National Boxing Men’s Team Coach. In Sandhu’s own words, “I shared a magnificent friendship with Bhardwaj ji. I was his student as well as co-worker after being inducted in the NIS. I saw him lay the foundation for Indian Boxing to flourish,”. [Source: ESPN]
Heaping praise on the way Bharadwaj, or “O P Sir”(as referred to by many of his students) handled his students, former Delhi Asian Games Bronze Medal Winner and Olympian, Capt. Jaslal Pradhan said, “He was like a father to every boxer he coached. All the boxers training under him were like his sons and daughters. I couldn’t compete at the Brisbane CWG because of dengue. But had it not been O P sir’s encouraging words and the rehabilitation programme designed by him, I wouldn’t have competed at the 1982 Delhi Asiad as well. He took extra care of me and strengthened my resolve to such a level that not only did I beat dengue but recovered enough to clinch the bronze in front of the home crowd.” [Source: Times of India]
O P Bhardwaj: A Dynamic Personality
TL Gupta, a close family friend and a former Boxing coach himself remembered that Bhardwaj would write numerous letters to authorities demanding better amenities for boxers at NIS using a typewriter that he brought back with him from Russia, after going there on tour once, in the 1970s. [Source: India Today] There was a fierce personality that O P Bhardwaj possessed, which would always be at the forefront whenever he came across any ill-treatment of boxers. For example, when the Indian team was returning from the 1980 Asian Boxing championship with two gold, five silver, and three bronze medals in their kitty, there was however issues with their accommodation on their return to Patiala. Bhardwaj took it upon himself to ensure all the players in the contingent received good accommodation after they returned.
Om Prakash Bhardwaj has always been a personality who has given direction to the sport of Boxing, during his time. A flag-bearer for Boxing in India, he was the inspiration for both a generation of boxers and a generation of coaches as a coach and a selector respectively. He had an unparalleled passion for the sport percolated through to all of his students, arguably more than 15,000 of them in his lifetime.
Not one to sit and bark orders from the sidelines, Bhardwaj was always ‘all-in’ and would fight alongside and for all of his wards, as he has proved time and again, during his lengthy career. Undeniably, there is an incredible void left by the demise of O P Bharadwaj, one of the greatest coaches to have ever graced the game of Boxing. He will always be remembered as a visionary who truly changed the face of Boxing in India.