Saturday, April 18, 2015

Arikapudi RamanaRao who wowed Tamil Nadu

Arikapudi Ramana Rao is a rarity in Indian volleyball. 

Not only did he excel for his native state (Andhra Pradesh), Rao also shone in Tamil Nadu, his `second home'.Rao carved a niche for himself as a coach too, becoming in 1986 an FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball) instructor, the first Indian to do so. 

It is no surprise then that Rao, the national team's head coach during the Asian volleyball championships in Perth, Australia, in 1991, is among the chosen few to have won both the Arjuna award (in 1977-78) and the prestigious Dronacharya award (in 1990-91). 

Born in Chamallapudi village near Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, volleyball caught Rao's attention relatively late, at college."While studying at Hindu College in Guntur, I used to play both basketball and volleyball regularly since both courts were side-by-side," recalls Rao.He did well for the college in both disciplines. "There came a point when I had to choose between the two, and I went with volleyball," says Rao. It was a master-stroke because soon after his graduation, Rao got an offer to join the Southern Central Railway (SCR) team in Hyderabad. "At SCR, I had an opportunity to play in various nationallevel tournaments which gave me the exposure. Soon, I featured in the Indian team which was a huge high," he says. 

In 1970, Rao shifted base to the erstwhile Madras, courtesy an offer from State Bank of India (SBI) "They (SBI) had to wait for about six months before I joined, since Railways were reluctant to relieve me. I had to report on April 30, 1970, and I got my relieving order only a day prior to that," says Rao. But that didn't affect Rao's performance and he soon made his mark with his new employers in his new home. "SBI had a great side, and most of the members were part of the state side." 

He may have been a part of numerous victorious squads throughout his glittering career, but winning the maiden national title for his adopted state remains close to Rao's heart. "The 1975-76 nationals in Trichy where we won the title were special. We were two sets down in the final, and the crowd, which had gathered in large numbers, left the stadium disappointed. By the time we pulled things back, there were very few left to cheer us," says Rao. 

However, many fans came to congratulate Rao the next day after learning about Tamil Nadu's spectacular win through the newspapers. "Be it during a practice session or during a game -we were always cheered by the spectators in Madras. 

If not for the crowd, I don't think there will be volleyball or the players," he says. 

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