The Indian Olympic Association sent its largest ever Olympic contingent for the recently concluded London 2012 Olympics. 83 athletes, including 60 men and 23 women, represented India in 13 sports. The Indian Government had spent around 1.35 billion rupees to train these athletes for the Olympics. With not-for-profit organisations like Olympic Gold Quest and Mittal Champions trust coming to the forefront, India was expected to return with its best-ever medal haul. Goldman Sachs, using its complex economic model, predicted India would return with 5 medals. India’s homecoming actually bettered this prediction. 6 medals, including 2 Silver and 4 Bronze, is the best performance by India at an Olympics in terms of the number of medals won. Many expressed hope in the progress of Olympic sports in India and termed this feat as the first step towards the country becoming a sporting power. However, as usual there were comparative analysis done by the so-called experts, comparing India’s performance and population with that of Jamaica and Cuba. Does this comparison make any sense? Does it serve as a motivation?
The Indian contingent for London 2012 included world champions (current and former), world record holders and Olympic medalists and medal hopefuls. Some of them performed as expected or exceeded expectation and some of them disappointed us. The much-fancied archery and men’s boxing contingent disappointed us while the shooters and wrestlers exceeded expectations.
The 6-member archery team went to London with a lot of expectations. With the event being held at Lord’s, a lucky venue for India that brings back memories of the 1983 World Cup victory and Natwest Trophy triumph, India was expecting luck to be on its side. With the current World number 1 Deepika Kumari and the World Cup silver medalist men’s recurve team in its ranks, India was expected to bring back medals in archery. However, either the flu that hit the team before the event or the wind that hit them during the event could be a possible reason for their disastrous show. The archery team drew a blank, with none reaching the quarterfinals.
The 14-member athletics team of India did not have a realistic chance of winning a medal. However, there was an outside chance in the throw events with Krishna Poonia, Om Prakash Singh and Vikas Gowda consistently featuring in the finals of many international meets leading up to the Olympics. Vikas and Poonia did well to reach the finals. There was nothing notable in the performance of the Indian athletes in track and jump events except Irfan K.T., who finished a creditable 10th, setting a new national record in the process. Another notable performance was that of Bahadur Rana who also set a national record. Tintu Luka, who promised a lot when P.T. Usha scouted her talent, could not live up to the expectation and lost out in the semis. Ranjith Maheshwary traveled all the way to London to commit 3 fouls.
India had a great chance to win a medal in badminton via Saina Nehwal. As expected, it was Saina versus China in the semis and Saina became the first shuttler to win a medal for India by picking up the bronze. P Kashyap sprang up a few surprises before going down fighting to the World number 1 Lee Chog Wei in the quarters.
The young Indian men’s boxing team, with an average age of 22, was expected to bring home a couple of medals. With Beijing bronze medalist Vijender Singh leading the team, they fought bravely but had to return empty-handed. There were cries of foul in some of the bouts with Indian boxers ending up on the receiving end. Five-time world champion Mary Kom was the lone women’s boxer representing India in London. Fighting in a heavier weight category than her preferred one, she fought her heart out for the millions of Indians praying for her and won the bronze medal.
The Indian hockey team was making a re-entry to the Olympics after missing out on the Beijing edition. Nothing more was expected from the team than a creditable performance. However, they scripted a sad story, losing all their matches.
Judo, Rowing, Swimming, Table Tennis and Weightlifting
A judoka, a swimmer, couple of paddlers, scullers and weightlifters were sent by India to London to make the country’s presence felt in these sports. Though it is sad that weightlifting has taken a serious hit with dope scandals, other sports are slowly becoming popular in India.
India is slowly becoming a powerhouse in shooting. With medals won in three consecutive Olympics, India is slowly but steadily becoming a super-power in this sport. Though Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra failed to deliver, Gagan Narang won a bronze medal in the 10m Air Rifle. This was followed by the feat of Vijay Kumar, who held his nerve in a tense encounter to win a silver medal. Joydeep came close to a medal but finished just outside the medal brackets. A lot was expected out of the double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi, but it was just not his day.
By keeping the media mouth-watering with a lot of drama over the selection, there was nothing much expected from the tennis team sent by India. They came back with their heads held low in shame.
Wrestling is another sport where Indians are making their presence felt. A spectacular performance by Yogeshwar Dutt in the repacharge round helped India win its 1st wrestling medal at London. This was followed by the silver medal from Sushil Kumar, the old warhorse. He won 3 hard-fought bouts while battling ill health to become the first and only Indian to win multiple medals in individual events at the Olympics.
The performance of the Indian athletes at London 2012 shows that India is slowly finding its foothold at the biggest sporting stage. A relatively rich medal haul is something that we can cherish. There are many memorable sporting moments that happened during this journey. But the young lady parading with the Indian contingent during the opening ceremony is one moment we all wish to forget.