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Billionaire Funds Athletes To Boost India's Olympic Run

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At the Athens Olympics in 2004, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, like millions of other Indian sports fans, was distressed: There was hardly anyone to cheer for.

Though India is a budding superpower and, after China, the most-populous nation in the world, its Olympic record is dreadful. And the government's efforts to groom future Olympians have been inadequate. In Athens, India took home just one medal, a silver for shooting -- less than the medal counts of Zimbabwe and North Korea. Archrival China won 32 golds, second only to the U.S. "That really disappointed me," Mr. Mittal says.

Now Mr. Mittal, 57 years old, who left India as a young man to amass one of the world's largest personal fortunes, is trying to do something about it. The billionaire has committed $10 million so far to the Mittal Champions Trust, a nonprofit effort to promote sporting excellence in India. The trust aims to improve India's Olympic record -- at least a bit -- by spotting a few promising athletes in this nation of 1.1 billion and introducing them to the kind of modern sports training that smaller, poorer countries mastered decades ago. At least 10 of its trained athletes will compete for India in Beijing.

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