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|Volume 11 |Issue 24| June 15, 2012 ||
BACK TO THE ROOTS
QUAZI ZULQUARNAIN ISLAM, from The Daily Star sports desk meets American-born gymnast, Syque Caesar, who'll be representing Bangladesh in the Olympics this year
Syque Ceasar is 21 years old. He loves The Avengers. Every morning he wakes up and checks his e-mail on his iPhone. His sister bought him an iPad for his most recent birthday; he uses it to do almost everything – from doing his homework to chatting to friends on Skype. Syque is a senior at the University of Michigan hoping to graduate with a degree in Communications. Like every other student on campus he too is looking forward to the end of the semester and the start of the blissful summer months. Only, his reason is a bit different; Syque will be representing Bangladesh in the London Olympics in July and August.
Catching up with him on one of his two lean days in a grueling 40-hour a week training regime, it would be easy to forget just how young Syque is. He speaks with a maturity that belies his age, when asked about what his expectations are going into the London Olympics as a gymnast representing the country of his father.
“I look at it as a great opportunity. For me, the Olympics will be as much about participating as it will be about letting it all sink in – the feeling of being part of the biggest sporting event in the world.”
Indeed, there is no expectation, just curiosity, from the few ardent sports fans in the country about Syque's participation in a sporting event where Bangladesh's presence is merely academic in nature. No sportsperson from Bangladesh has ever qualified for the Olympics; our only participants have come courtesy of a wild-card system which tries to ensure diversity as part of the Olympic belief of inclusivity.
Yet Syque represents a major departure in profile from the usual Bangladeshi athlete who participates in the Games and courtesy of his American training, there is some hope that he might just be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat, much like he did in the 4th Central South Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships late last year.
In that event, Syque won a gold medal, Bangladesh's first ever international medal in gymnastics.
“It was amazing,” he recalls. “At this competition I realised how an entire country can be so united through any sport. I was able to bring hope and honour not only to my family, but to the entire country of Bangladesh. The support I've received has been absolutely tremendous, and it makes me proud to be representing Bangladesh at the 2012 Olympics.”
To his credit, there are no pretences from Syque about undying nationalism and love for the Bangladesh flag. For Syque, Bangladesh is still the significant other, the land of his father – a place where he has many family members but he rarely visits.
“My last visit to Bangladesh before the championships last year was in 2000,” he says sheepishly. “I visited often when I was younger but ever since I started taking gymnastics seriously it became more and more difficult.”
It's perfectly understandable. Unlike most outdoor sports, in gymnastics there is no off-season. You are either training or competing. Shelf life for gymnasts can be fleeting; most women don't last into their 20s, men peak in their early 20s. Injuries are frequent, many of them career-ending.
Syque has had his fair share too. When asked whether he had ever considered that he would be able to make the cut for the US national team, he seems pensive.
“Perhaps, “he says. “There was a time when I felt I could have made it but it is extremely competitive. But I have had a couple of really bad injuries over the last five years and now at this stage, it is very unlikely.”
But he is happy that Bangladesh has provided him an opportunity to realise a dream he has nurtured ever since he picked up the slightly left-field sport as a six-year-old.
He laughs at the memory. “My dad and I were walking through a mall one day and there was this guy handing out leaflets about gymnastics. My dad asked me if I wanted to try it out and I said why not?”
And the die was cast as Syque found himself immersed in the sport that would take up most of his adult life. “"Gymnastics isn't really such a popular sport around the globe,” admits Syque, but he is hopeful that his showing in London this summer will act as a catalyst for improving the sport in Bangladesh.
“I met a lot of the guys during the Championship in Bangladesh and many of them were much more talented that I am. With the proper training they would probably become much better than I am.”
London 2012 offers Syque with the perfect opportunity to top-off an interesting gymnastic career. He owes much of his ascent to his father who has always encouraged him to follow his dreams in sport, in part perhaps because his father too was a sportsman – a national footballer in Bangladesh.
“My dad always wanted me to represent Bangladesh," says Syque. "At first I wasn't feeling it, but then I felt the pride of competing for the country, especially when I received those medals after the Championships in Decemeber. That was amazing."
For now, Syque's focus is solely on the Olympics, and his grueling training regime is targeted to help him perform at that event to the best of his abilities.
“I just want to go out there and hit my routines. As long as I do my best then I'll be very happy, regardless of where I'm placed."