Tokyo 2020: What to expect from Indian athletes after Asiad success
Dutee Chand was ecstatic after bagging her second medal of the Asian games as she clinched the silver in the 200 with a time 23:20 seconds, finishing behind Bahrain’s Edidiong Odiong. She followed in the footsteps of her legendary predecessors like PT Usha, Jyotimoyee Sikdar and Sunita Ravi, who also won multiple medals in their respective athletic events. Their achievements are huge and I am in no way trying to undermine their work, dedication and subsequent success. They are the pillars on which the gradually broadening bridge between Indian athletics and World glory rests. Their stories are those of hardship and struggle. But behind this veil of success and glory, lies the harsh reality of the Asian games, especially for Indian Athletics.
To put it simply, the Asian games are just not competitive enough so as to give an appropriate idea of where the athletes lie on the global scene. It is like a below-par preliminary examination paper. You can do very well in it and start fancying your chances in the final paper until you realize that the final paper turned out to be a different ball game altogether. Success in the Asian games is by no means a precursor to success at the International stage. Although certain sports like Badminton, Table Tennis, Archery, etc. do have an extremely competitive playing field that gives Indians a run for their money, the same cannot be said for athletics. This is not to say that medalling in the Asian games is a piece of cake. But its just that an Asian Games Gold medal-winning effort might not even get you to the final at some of the international events.
Just to put things in perspective, Chand’s 100m timing that grabbed the silver, would have got her a seventh-place finish at the Rio Olympics. The 200m timing that also got her a Silver, wouldn’t have been enough even to make the final at Rio. Swapna Burman Gold medal-winning effort of 6026 points in the heptathlon would have given her a 23rd rank at Rio. Jinson Johnson’s gold medal effort in 1500m would have got him an 11th placed finish at the Rio games. Manjit Singh’s 800m timing of 1:46:15 fetched him the gold at Jakarta but it wouldn’t have taken him to the final at Rio. This is not to take away anything from these champions. They have worked their hearts out to win a medal for their nation. And win they did. The only question is, is it enough?
This success at the Asian games gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. And that feeling. Is shared across the nation. But what we need to understand is that our ultimate goal is winning at the Olympics. Any kind of success is accompanied by a space for complacency which needs to be filled quickly with a replenished hunger for achieving more. Both as an athlete and as a nation. What they have achieved is no doubt a noteworthy feat. Their stories are those of hardship and struggle. That is the biggest problem with Indian athletics. There is no infrastructure at the grassroots level. There are schemes like TOPS to support the established athletes but what about those boys and girls who run barefoot, living on two square meals a day. You need to catch them young and ensure they have the proper training facilities, equipment, coaches, and a sufficient diet. We have always won medals at the Asian Games but we need to go a step further. No doubt the Asian Games are a huge platform for these athletes. But this is not where the ribbon drops. It's the Olympics. If that mindset stays with us, then Indian athletics will soon make the big leap towards world domination.