We are just over 20 days away from the start of the 31st edition of the Olympic Games, which will be staged in the Brazilian capital of Rio De Janerio next month. Ahead of the Games, Digvijay Singh Deo and Amit Bose have co-authored the book, titled, “My Olympic Journey”, which looks at India’s 50 best Olympic sportspersons and tracks their journey to becoming Olympic medallists for some and Olympians for others.
The book can be divided into two distinct parts: those who succeeded at the Games and those who didn’t.
The personal journey of those who got to the podium is explained in great detail, and there are several moments in the book that inspire you. The part where Abhinav Bindra talks about climbing a pizza pole before the Beijing Olympics, which helped take the fear away when he participated in the final is particularly riveting.
There’s also a description of how Leander Paes, in order to get used to the high altitude of Atlanta, practised in Brazil and other Latin American countries. The book showcases the journey of athletes with all the minute details that played an important role in their success.
Ashok Kumar, who was part of the hockey team that won bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics, speaks about how he once got hit by his father the late Major Dhyan Chand when the latter found out that his son was playing hockey against his wishes. Finding out that the man, regarded as the greatest to have played the game, was against his children taking up the sport, was one of my big revelations from the book.
Kumar, in fact, didn’t show his father the bronze he won, out of shame and 3 years later, showed him the gold that he won in the World Cup.
An Olympic medal is often cited as a culmination of years of hard work and toil on the sporting field, But in several cases, it also involves sacrifices made by athletes away from it.
Take the case of MC Mary Kom. She had to leave her 6-month-old twins, who had no idea about the stature of their mother, and go train in a national camp for the London Olympics . Saina Nehwal’s father took her on a scooter every single day to-and-from the academy, travelling nearly 100 kilometres. It is these tales that make the book a very engrossing read.
The second part of the book talks about those who were equally talented, put in equal amount of hard work if not more, but couldn’t quite cross the line. Among the many in this category, the stories of Milkha Singh and Dhanraj Pillay leave quite an impact on the reader.
Milkha calls his fourth place finish in Rome in 1960 as a tragedy. He feels that since the 400m final was staged two days after the semifinal, it left him tensed and caused him to remain locked in his room, which in hindsight he feels wasn't the ideal thing to do. The sprinter also recalls how he wept the whole night after the final, at which point he decided to call it a day.
Pillay recollects how a divided team went to Barcelona in 1992 and failed terribly. In fact, other players who featured in the team that went to Spain in 1992, have only disturbing stories to say about those Games.
He also recalls weeping inconsolably after narrowly missing out in qualifying for the medal round in Sydney in 2000, after conceding a 69th-minute equaliser against Poland. He talks about the terrible treatment meted out to him, where in his final international game for India, he played a mere 1.5 minutes.
The Olympics make athletes focus single-handedly on the job at hand in order to get to the podium and Gagan Narang reveals an interesting story in that context. Prior to going to London in 2012, the desperation to win that elusive medal led him to switch off completely from all social media accounts.
Anju Bobby George, who was perhaps in her best form during that Athens Olympics, recalls how a day before her Long Jump final she fell ill and competed in the final in a state of daze.
One journey that left a deep mark on me was that of prone shooter Joydeep Karmakar, who was given very shabby treatment, particularly by the coaches associated with Indian shooting before the London Olympics. After firing a world record tally a few months before going to the Games, he lost his ammunition that he had already tested with, and had to compete in borrowed ones.
He also recalls how before a shoot off, the coach of eventual silver medalist Vijay Kumar came sprinting to him to ask for more ammunition, with Kumar leading at the time in his competition. Graciously, Karmakar gave some away and finished 4th in the prone final.
The authors have spoken about the journeys of many great athletes, but one man who has been referred at various points in the book and whose journey I would have loved to have known was Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
A lot of athletes have spoken about how his silver medal played a vital role in giving the belief to several other competitors, and a chapter on him would have surely added further intrigue to the book.
All in all, the book is a fine compilation of the journeys of India’s sportspersons and is a must read ahead of the 31st edition of the Games.