It is that time of the calender when Indians start caring about sports other than cricket. Unless you live in an Indian cave, you know I am referring to the ongoing Summer Olympics in Rio. As we are shamelessly aware, India is yet to open its account in the medals tally and our chances of winning one seem slimmer by each passing day.
India has shown discretion and anonymity at the Olympics for decades now. India has become one of those shy kids in school who just wants to be around the big boys but is unwilling to play with them. After Norman Pritchard (an Indian born to British parents) earned two silvers for India at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, it took 52 years for another Indian to win an individual medal when Kashaba Dadasheb Jadhav took a bronze in Helsinki. In 1996 at Atlanta, Leander Paes won a Bronze medal in men’s singles in tennis. Karnam Malleshwari followed his footsteps by winning a bronze in weightlifting in Sydney, 2000, whereas Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore took a step further by winning a Silver medal in Athens, 2004. Although a medal here and there is nothing to be excited about for a nation that is the 2nd largest nation in terms of population but it can be considered a start. However, the real thing began in Beijing in 2008.
Yes, while field hockey has 11 medals (9 gold + 2 bronze) to show for, it was in Beijing where India grabbed its first gold in a singles sport (Shooting) courtesy Abhinav Bindra. Vijender Kumar and Sushil Kumar took back one bronze a piece and India got its highest tally of medals ever in the Olympics.
In 2012, in London, India bettered their previous record by 200 percent when they brought six medals back home. Although missing a gold this time around, 2012 was a massive success for Indian athletes and was probably seen as another stepping stone towards equality of other sports in India.
In Rio this year, it suddenly feels that India is back to square 1. The games are into its second week and we are yet to win a medal. A larger contingent than previous year, we Indians were hoping for a strong showing at Rio and were probably expecting medals tally to the north of 6. While Vijay Kumar (2012 silver winner in shooting) Mary Kom (2012 bronze winner in women’s boxing) failed to qualify for the current Olympics, Sushil Kumar (bronze in 2008 & silver in 2012) had his own battle with Narsingh Yadav for the wrestling quota which he ultimately lost. Vijender Singh (bronze winner 2008) took the most drastic step and turned to professional boxing citing reasons as government’s bias to boost cricket, thereby becoming ineligible to represent India at the Olympics. Departure of athletes like Abhinav Bindra (finished 4th in Rio), Gagan Narang and Jeetu Rai has certainly unnerved the Indians, especially when some of them were inches close to grabbing a medal.
Now despite the heartbreak suffered till now, India has enough in its arsenal to grab a couple of medals. Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna are a win away from a medal and so is boxer Vikas Krishnan. Dipa Karmakar has also been brilliant whereas Yogeshwar Dutt (2012 bronze winner) is yet to begin his quest. The Indian field hockey team, despite unconvincingly is still in the game. Narshingh Yadav who battled Sushil Kumar for the Olympics berth, then failed two doping tests only to be cleared by NADA for being a victim of sabotage is also to begin his journey. An Olympic medal will certainly culminate the Bollywood melodrama he has been facing lately. Last but not the least, my personal favourite – Saina Nehwal. If nobody else, I am pretty sure, Saina can bring back a medal home from Rio.
All the gossip about India failing at Rio (and I especially refer to Shobha De here) is just paper talk. If nothing else, we should be proud of the fact that around 100 athletes (the largest ever) were selected from India for the Rio Olympics. This only shows that other sports are gaining relevancy in India. Also, since many of the athletes remain in the fray for a medal, its never say never.