New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) Om Prakash Bhardwaj, former national chief coach and first Dronacharya awardee in boxing, passed away after brief illness here on Thursday. He was 82 and is survived by two sons and a daughter. His wife Santosh had passed away on May 6.
“He was lion-hearted. Fearless, bold and confident. He was an ambassador of Indian boxing in many ways. Apart from training boxers and managing teams, he would go all out to get sponsors for boxers,” said Jay Kowli, former secretary-general of Boxing Federation of India (BFI).
He was one of the officials involved in organising a show bout between Indian boxers, including Kaur Singh, and Muhammad Ali in early 1980s in New Delhi.
Bhardwaj was fondly known as OP Ji in boxing circle and was warm-hearted person who shared a rapport with the then International Boxing Association (AIBA) president Anwar Chowdhary of Pakistan, said Kowli.
Bhardwaj retired from Army Physical Training Institute in Pune in 1973 and joined National Institute of Sports in Patiala. “He was instrumental in starting NIS diploma course in boxing in 1975. I was among the first batch of students,” said Dronacharya Award-winning coach Gurbux Singh Sandhu, who succeeded Bhardwaj.
Sandhu revealed that Bhardwaj was a student as well as teacher during the 1975 diploma course in Patiala.
“We both were awarded diploma the same year. He had passion for boxing and worked hard to improve the profile of boxing in India,” added Sandhu.
Bhardwaj was the chief boxing coach from 1975 to 1993. He joined Sports Authority of India (SAI) as coach in 1984 and retired in early 1990s. He was awarded Dronacharya in 1985.
Sandhu who was Bhardwaj’s assistant later become the chief coach in early 1990s.
The highlight of Bhardwaj’s coaching career was 1986 Seoul Asian Games when Indian men’s boxing team won medals in all 12 weight categories.
“India won five silver and seven bronze medals. Then Bhardwaj sir was declared best coach of Asia,” said a former international boxer.
Bhardwaj is also known for his hospitality.
“To prepare for the 1990 World Cup, I stayed at Bhardwaj sir’s house for three months as I wasn’t able to train on my own in Rohtak, Haryana,” said Sarbjeet Sangwan, winner of bronze in 1990 World Cup.
After he retired from SAI in early 1990s, Bhardwaj set up a boxing academy at his house in New Delhi.
“I would say he had passion for boxing,” added Sangwan.