Once again, the Olympics have come and gone. The hopes and prayers of millions of people in India and many Indians abroad were yet again placed in the hands of our sportspersons. Despite its best performance, with 1 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze, India’s medal tally at the Tokyo Olympic Games remained low for a country of India’s size and strength. This time though, the disappointment is touched with a new hope that things may finally be turning around.
As we begin to recount the signs of hope, there are a few achievements that immediately rush to one's mind. Neeraj Chopra, whose gold medal in the javelin was the first for India in track and field and second individual gold medal after Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal for shooting in 2008. Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian javelin thrower to even qualify for the final in this sport. His achievement made every Indian proud.
PV Sindhu got back-to-back medals when she won the bronze medal in badminton this time, following up on her medal in the last Olympics. Her hard work and struggle paid off and she kept alive India’s romance with badminton.
Indian hockey finally showed a revival with the men’s team winning the bronze medal after a long time. The women’s team came out to be the surprise gift as they came in the fourth position after a hard-fought game for the bronze medal.
At 23 years, Ravi Dahiya became the second wrestler after Sushil Kumar to qualify for the finals in wrestling. His silver medal has assured him glory for many years to come.
Mirabai Chanu’s silver medal in women’s 49 kg weightlifting and Lovlina Borgohain’s bronze medal in women’s welterweight boxing added to our joy in the performance of our athletes. Bajrang Punia, one of India’s best wrestlers who has won a number of gold medals for India at several events, added to the tally by winning a bronze medal for India in the 65 kg wrestling.
India’s shooting and archery teams may not have succeeded this time, they showed enough spark to kindle hopes for the future. There were also boxers and wrestlers who underperformed this time. There are others whose performances will be remembered with credit. Kamalpreet Kaur for discus throw, equestrian Fouaad Mirza, fencer CA Bhavani Devi and Manika Batra for table tennis gave impressive performances.
In our overall joy at the success of Neeraj Chopra on the penultimate day of the Games, most people forgot that this was 38-year-old Mary Kom’s last Olympics that have an age cap of 40 years. The record six-time boxing champion went down fighting in the flyweight quarterfinals and was beaten for the bronze medal by a razor-thin margin.
In a reminder of the last Olympics, India’s daughters showed their mettle yet again. A question that is now being asked frequently is why are Indian women performing so well at the Olympics. Given Indian society’s well-known preference for boys, girls have to battle many constraints to stand out. Boys get automatic preference over girls in families with limited means, be it education or even nourishment. Girls that emerge out of this limiting circumstance are often hardier, more determined and plain gutsy. Fortunately, these Olympics have given us both heroes and heroines.
The overall medals tally in these Olympics may not leave us ecstatic, but there’s much that we can take satisfaction from. Funding for Indian sports has gone up. Not only is the government providing enhanced budgetary support to sport in India, a National Sports Development Fund set up with a small corpus in 1998-99 has grown enormously, with 38 percent of the fund coming from private sources, especially government owned companies. The government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme has been a major funding support to the training of champion athletes. The Odisha government’s sponsorship of the Indian hockey, both men’s and women’s teams, is largely credited with the upturn in the performances of both the teams.
The role of the private sector has come in for appreciation too. Even as national badminton coach, Pullela Gopichand, has worked on our badminton stars, efforts of private initiatives like Go Sports Foundation, JSW Sports and Olympic Gold Quest are being appreciated. It is hoped that a flourishing society, gaining in economic prosperity and strength, will bring a positive perception change towards sports and sportspersons in India.
These Olympics brought home to us the inspiring stories of many of the legends created by these games. From the captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, Rani Rampal, whose family could not even afford the daily 5 litres of milk required for her training, to Vandana Kataria, the first Indian woman to score an Olympic hat trick in hockey, and from Mirabai Chanu to Lovlina Borgohain, all of them have overcome enormous challenges. We can only hope that the doors they have opened will be stormed through by others in the next Olympics.