While the basic ideals of Hinduism have often been held as the foundation of most religious theories, an Olympic medallist has recently spoken out regarding his ethnicity and how this religion helped him pursue and improve in his sport. The American silver medallist for Mixed Doubles in Tennis at Rio 2016, Rajeev Ram, recently spoke about his personal life and the experience of achieving a podium finish at the greatest stage in the world.
The 32-year old Indo-American grabbed the notice of a number of people in the Indian subcontinent because of his mixed cultural background. Needless to say, for a country starved of medals for nearly ten days into the competition, a shared heritage with the man who partnered the legendary Venus Williams was a source of great pride. This strong feeling of kinship will only increase thanks to his recent comments on Hinduism and its effect on his playing style.
The United States is a massive country and may be called a cultural melting-pot of a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. The Indian-origin population, nonetheless, remains quite low. In 2010, Indians made up nearly 0.9% of the American population and it was, at that time, growing at a massive rate of nearly 69.37%. Even with such low representation, Ram is not the first Indo-American to win a medal for the States at the Summer Games.
Road racing Champion, Alexi Grewal won the gold in Cycling at the 1984 Games held in Los Angeles. More recently, Mohini Bhardwaj finished second in Gymnastics in 2004 while Raj Bhavasar won the Bronze at Beijing in the same discipline. None of them have ever mentioned their mixed heritage before.
The athlete is well aware of his minority status in his adopted country. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he claimed, “I identify, certainly, with anyone of South Asian background in the U.S. It’s a small group. It’s an even smaller group of people of that background who are athletic.”
In the same interview, he has opened up regarding his roots and the calming effect Hinduism has had on his style of play. This calmness, he says, is what helped him reach the pinnacle of his career. As of August 2016, Ram has registered a career high ranking of 20th in the world in the Mixed Doubles category. He has specifically credited his parents for shaping his philosophy in life both in and out of the court, based on Hinduism.
“Part of the Hindu religion teaches, more so than anything else, your control of your mind — your self-control, basically,” Ram explained. While that might mean a complete awareness of the moral and ethical implications of your actions that a firm follower of Hinduism is expected to have, for the athlete, it also means a complete control over his body and a masterful grip on his game. “Obviously, your body’s going to do what your mind tells it to do. If you can have that inner control, a sense of peace, your body’s going to follow,” he added.
According to him, his parents never expected him to win every match he played. Consequently, he was taught the importance of looking at the bigger picture when faced with challenging situations in life. This helped him channel his temper into a determination to outdo himself with every passing day.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Stock ended up with the Gold medal in the Tennis Mixed Doubles at Rio.