Can India thrive in Tokyo?
“It’s not winning but taking part in Olympics” the motivational signage at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Guwahati enticed lots of onlookers as there’re plenty of recreational facilities like parks and sports grounds for joggers in the heart of the city. I too got inspired during my college days to run on the rubber track surface like sprinter Carl Lewis that made the ground feel like a springboard, giving energy towards increasing speed. The Olympic motto is also coined by three Latin words: Citius-Altius- Fortius means Faster-Higher-Stronger. Now the Tokyo Olympics are around the corner. With the mega events rolling out in the Japanese capital, Indians at home don’t seem very enthusiastic about it. India’s medal hunt in the Olympics so far has been disappointing. It was just 28 medals (9G 7S 12B) after Norman Pritchard’s winning 2 silvers in Paris 1900 under the British-India flag. India’s first Olympics gold came in London 1948 under the tri-colour although it won three Olympics gold even before independence. The golden era ended in Moscow 1980 though India won 11 medals (8-1-2) with legendary Dhyan Chand and Balwant Singh. Wrestler KD Jadav won an independent India’s first individual bronze in Helsinki 1952.
Leander ends long wait in Atlanta 1996 with bronze while the first women weightlifter Karnam Malleswari won bronze in Sydney 2000 followed by Capt Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore for silver in Athens 2004. An Olympic gold had eluded Indian for over hundred years, until shooter Abhinav Bindra owned the podium at Beijing 2008 along with bronzes from Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar in boxing and wrestling respectively. London 2012 Olympics bagged its best haul, six medals with silvers for wrestler Sushil Kumar & amp; shooter Vijay Kumar and bronzes for Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, shooter Gagan Narang and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt. In Rio 2016, silver for PV Sindhu and bronze for wrestler Sakshi Malik have brought some respite from hope and glory. But those aren’t enough. The world second most populous nation has the worst Olympics record in terms of medals per head. Can other sports flourish in a cricket crazy Nation? Ironically cricket isn’t played in Olympics other than Paris 1900. India must determine to erase the memory of a disappointing past with a hope in double digit target. The number of Indian athletes participating has seen a rise in the past three editions. With 228 members’ strong contingent including 119 athletics in 18 disciplines competing 85 medal events, India has sent a strong contender for Tokyo, which is a huge affair with 46 disciplines of 11324 athletics from 206 countries.
However, the Tokyo Olympics won’t be anything like in the past. The projection contains more uncertainty over Covid scare although the US is expected to once again top the Summer Games. The Virtual Medal Table forecast India at 19th position with 17 medals (4-5-8) from just 2 in the last games. Expectation is very high in shooting with at least 8 medals followed by 4 in boxing, 3 in wrestling and 1 each from archery and weightlifting. Wrestler Bajrang Punia, grappler Vinesh Phogat, world number one shooter Elavenil Valarivan, 10 m air pistol mixed team Saurav Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker have high hopes to raise Indian tricolor and play the National anthem at Tokyo.
Six time world champion Mary Kom is in her second Olympics medal appearance after bronze in Rio 2016. Lovelina Borgohain becomes the first woman boxer and second from the Assam to represent after Shiva Thapa in London 2012. The competitors from North East are winning their places with a total of 8. Nilakanta Sharma (Manipur), Sushila Chanu (Manipur), Lalremsiami (Mizoram) for Hockey, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (Manipur) for Weightlifting, Sushila Likmabam (Manipur) for Judo and Sikkim’s Tarundeep Rai for Archery are among them. Athletics has never been India’s strong suit at the Olympics however Milkha Singh and PT Usha were India historic near-wins at the Games but emerging javelin throwers Neeraj Chopra and Shivpal Singh have raised hopes around. World champion PV Sindhu will be aiming to better her silver from the last games. The Indian boxers punched as many as nine tickets to the Tokyo Olympics. Never undermine the talent of Indian men’s hockey team, who sit fourth in the world rankings.
Qualifying for the Olympics is a major hurdle for every sportsperson. As many as 15 Indian shooters have achieved Olympic qualification so far, making it the country’s largest contingent at any games. Youngsters Divyansh Singh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan are highest-ranked in the 10m Air Rifle men’s and women’s respectively, while Manu Bhaker has had prolific returns and medal expectations are quite high. Ranked second in the world, the former world champion Mirabai Chanu is among the favorites for a medal.
Despite all odds, my bet for Tokyo is on the top 10 athletes who are expected to clinch medals. Hope PV Sindhu (Badminton), Mary Kom and Amit Panghal (Boxing) Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker (Shooting), Mirabai Chanu, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia (Wrestling), Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das (Archery) would shine in their respective events. India can thrive in the Olympics if she could ensure more players to have a proper system for athlete selection and training from a young age. Ironically sports have never been a priority for the Government. Sport has always taken a back seat vis a vis education. Sports as education can also help children for its development. Should sports be made compulsory in the education curriculum? Under the Khelo India scheme, the Government is supporting.
Unfortunately India got caught up at the bottom of overall medal standings 67th out of 87th medal winners in the last edition. Our country has not always done enough to support its athletes. There is more to India sorry performance than just a shortage of funds or infrastructure. But for me, Olympics mean more than just winning medals. Winning a medal is good but it’s the best feeling for any sportsman competing in front of the whole world with great athletics. And viewers are waiting for the Blue Riband Sprint events of 100m, 200m, 400m, hurdles and relays that have historically been the biggest crowd-pullers at the Olympics, sadly spectators aren’t allowed.