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India's latest engineering goal: create Olympians

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There is much work to be done. Since independence in 1947, India has won 12 Olympic medals in 14 Summer Games – three fewer than Belarus won in 2004 alone.

Sports not seen as a viable career

The problem, say some observers, is culturally ingrained. With the possible exception of cricket, sports have always been dismissed – not seen as a viable career choice.

"Our problem is Indian society just isn't interested in sport," says Prem Sharma, a boxing coach. "Parents will tell their children to study and become engineers and doctors and not to waste their time on sport."

In turn, would-be Olympians have often felt abandoned and anonymous. "If you are a sportsman, you have to be a class above the rest," says a national team coach who asked that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to speak with the media. "In India, he has not even been an equal."

Funding was limited and training facilities were scattered across the country, with athletes trained more for national competitions between states than Olympic-caliber events.

The Athens Games four years ago were typical: a single silver in shotgun double-trap shooting. In fact, the silver represented the best medal haul for India since the Moscow Games of 1980, when the field hockey team won gold.

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