Rajendra Kumar Sharma is the former Chief Coach of the Indian national cycling team. He came to the public attention in 2022, when he was accused by a female cyclist named Deborah Herold of indulging in a series of sexual misconduct.
In 2008, Rajendra Kumar Sharma began to pursue his graduation at Amity University, and in 2012, he graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree. In 2013, Rajendra Kumar Sharma pursued a 3-month long diploma in International Cycling Coaching from the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), Switzerland. In the diploma, he managed to secure a First Class grading. While giving an interview to a magazine, he said,
At the end of the course, my instructor told me my report was the amongst the best he had graded.”
Height (approx.): 5′ 9″
Hair Colour: Gray (Semi-bald)
Eye Colour: Dark Brown
Parents & Siblings
Not much information is available about his parents or siblings.
Rajendra Kumar Sharma is married.
In 1984, Rajendra Kumar Sharma joined the Indian Air Force. In 1985, he was introduced to the sport of track cycling when a tri-services cycling team’s coach spotted RK Sharma furiously pedalling his bicycle on his way to the office. RK Sharma remained a part of the team till 1998, and by that time, he had earned a total of nine national medals. After leaving the team in 1998, RK Sharma was deployed at the Bangalore Air Force Station, and for the duration of his posting in Bangalore, he completely lost the touch with the sport of cycling. In 2006, when RK Sharma was posted to the Palam Air Force Station in New Delhi, he, on weekends, used to participate in the cycling races being conducted by a local cycling federation as a referee. While giving an interview to a sports magazine, he said,
During that time, I started volunteering over the weekend with the local cycling federation. Around that time there were a lot of cycling road races that were being conducted and I’d mostly referee there.”
In 2013, he decided to leave the Indian Air Force (IAF) to pursue a career as a Cycling Coach. He retired from the Indian Air Force as a Human Resources (HR) Manager. In an interview, he said,
From what I knew, that was the most prestigious course in the world, I couldn’t do the course while being with the Air Force, so I had to retire. This sport isn’t like cricket, where there is money to be made. I knew that, as a cycling coach, my monthly income would come down by half. But I was ok with that.”
After completing his diploma from UCI, Rajendra Kumar Sharma was summoned by the then Chairman of the Cycling Federation of India (CFI), Omkar Singh, who offered him the post of a coach for the Indian Junior National cycling team, an offer which RK Sharma accepted. As a coach, RK Sharma was entrusted with the training of the Indian cycling team for the upcoming 2013 Asian Cycling Championship, but to his ordeal, RK Sharma was boycotted not only by other experienced coaches present in the training camp but also by the Indian cyclists, who thought that their careers would be adversely affected under RK Sharma’s training. In an, RK Sharma talked about this and said,
No one was happy. Who is this Sharmaji? He’s done a two-month course and he wants to tell us what to do? Apna career thodi kharab karna hai! There were enough people who asked, ‘Who is this guy who doesn’t have a diploma from NIS who is coming to tell us how to do things.’ As if NIS is IIT Delhi! They couldn’t intimidate me. If they had studied so much, why did India still not have a result to talk about? I’m not from NIS. I come from an army background. I take the decision that’s in the best national interests. It made me out to be the bad guy and even today a lot of people think I’m the most wanted villain in the system.”
After the boycott of Rajendra Kumar Sharma, only four cyclists voluntarily trained under his mentorship to participate in the 2013 Asian Cycling Championship. The cyclists who were trained under his guidance performed far better than the cyclists who were trained in the same camp by other experienced coaches due to which the cyclists who had left him began coming back to him to train for their upcoming championships. During an interview, RK Sharma claimed,
I only had two months with them but, in that time, I completely reworked their training routine. Some players needed work on their endurance and others on their power. At the nationals, every one of them won gold with a national record. At the next national camp, I had a full crowd of people who wanted to train with me.”
In 2014, Rajendra Kumar Sharma was appointed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) as the Head Coach of its World Cycling Center (WCC). In the same year, RK Sharma was given the responsibility of coaching the Indian team, which was to participate in the 2014 Asian Cycling Competition, held in Kazakhstan.
In 2015, RK Sharma observed that the trained cyclists were unable to perform as per the expectations of the Cycling Federation of India (CFI); therefore, he suggested that the CFI must recruit only those candidates who did not have any sort of cycling experience but should meet the minimum physical requirement of a cyclist. While giving an interview, he said,
We had seen what those with a cycling background could do. Hume bus chingari de do, aag bana denge. But if we already got a burning piece, it will only become ash.”
In 2016, RK Sharma was appointed as the Head Coach of the Junior National cycling team, which was to participate in the Track ASIA Cup 2016. In the competition, the team, under the mentorship of RK Sharma, secured the first position along with Malaysia by winning 3 gold medals, 2 silver medals, and a bronze medal.
After the exceptional performance of the Indian cycling team in the Track ASIA Cup 2016, RK Sharma was appointed as the Head Coach of the Olympic Podium Sprint Cycling Team by the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) in 2016. In an interview, RK Sharma said,
I was given the charge of preparing the Indian Cycling team for the Olympics. We did not get a good shot at the 2020 Olympics because my team was still too young to participate at the senior level and the delays further complicated things. But their time will come, I have begun training them for the 2024 Olympics, where we will win a medal of India in cycling and re-write in golden words.”
Later, in the same year, on the recommendation of the Cycling Federation of India, RK Sharma was appointed as the Chief Coach at the Sports Authority of India (SAI). In April 2017, RK Sharma and his trained team of cyclists participated in the UCI Track Cycling World Championship, held in Hong Kong.
In September 2017, RK Sharma and his team participated in the UCI Track Cycling World Championship in Italy. In 2018, the Junior National cycling team participated in the UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championship, held in Switzerland. Under the guidance of RK Sharma, his team, in the tournament, secured India’s first-ever Silver medal in the cycling event MJ Keirin.
In 2019, the Indian cycling team not only managed to set up a new Asian record in cycling but also secured a gold medal in MJ Team Sprint, a silver medal in MJ Individual Sprint, and a bronze medal in MJ Keirin in the UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championship, which was held in Frankfurt, Germany. While giving an interview, RK Sharma claimed,
That win was not just a lucky day. There are no miracles in sport. We did not just shoot out of nowhere. Our training has been systematic and regular. As a consequence, there has been less talk about bringing in a foreign coach. The victory is definitely one of my finest achievements. It is a matter of pride for me that India achieved its first cycling gold medal with an entirely Indian run programme.”
Allegations of sexual and physical harassment against RK Sharma
In 2022, Deborah Herold, an ace international gold medallist cycling champion, accused her Chief Coach, RK Sharma, of indulging in a series of sexually and physically inappropriate behaviour. In a complaint written to the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Deborah Herold accused her coach of slapping her twice in front of everyone during a national training camp. She further accused him of forcing her to spend a night with him in the same room. She also said that during the 2022 Track Cycling Championship in Slovenia, the coach would often barge into her room and offer a full-body post-training massage. In the charges levied by Deborah, she claimed that after she refused to adhere to his demands, the coach, RK Sharma, threatened her with destroying her career by having her kicked off of the National Center of Excellence (NCOE). Deborah Herold also claimed that RK Sharma tried to malign her image by writing a false report to the Cycling Federation of India’s authorities, accusing her of being in a relationship with another female cyclist while training in a national camp. Taking note of the situation, the SAI called back the Indian cycling team from the training-cum-competition tour of Slovenia. It also conducted a preliminary investigation of the allegations in which the SAI found the accusations levelled by Deborah against her coach to be true as a result of which RK Sharma was removed from the position of Chief Coach. The Hindu The Indian Express
- In 2013, the then Chairman of the Cycling Federation of India (CFI), Omkar Singh, persuaded RK Sharma to leave his job at the Indian Air Force (IAF) and pursue a diploma in International Cycling Coaching from UCI.
- Rajendra Kumar Sharma has always been against the notion of employing foreign coaches to train Indian cyclists for which he has often fought with the senior CFI authorities. In an interview, he said,
A good foreign coach will never come to India in cycling, under any circumstances. Our ranking was 150th out of the 195 countries. How could one be sure, that in four years, they could raise the standard of India from 150 to all the wat to the top. They would try their method for three or maybe four years at most, earn their money and then go back to their respective countries. Foreign coaches would not institute any long term changes.”
- Many veteran Indian cycling coaches were against RK Sharma since the day he joined the CFI. In 2015, when he presented a method, which would have guaranteed India a medal in cycling he was mocked and made fun of by the other coaches. In an interview, Rajendra Kumar Sharma claimed,
At the start of the next year, I came up with my plan of securing a medal for India at the 2015 Asian Championships. Everyone laughed at me… They did not even want to believe that we could win a medal there. They did not even consider it.”