Story of India at Rio Olympics: Not holding their nerve when it matters the most
The hype that surrounded the athletes was unprecedented. A record number of Indians had made the cut to the 2016 Rio Olympics and a few were leading the expectation charts with the optimists predicting no less than eight to ten medals. No doubt, the show put up by the men and women has been valiant, but as far as tangible gains are concerned, in an anti-climatic show, there has not been a single medal to show for their efforts.
A big stage like the Olympics provides the ideal platform to showcase our skills and prove ourselves. On top of that, going with the biggest-ever contingent made us dream of bettering our best-ever haul. Even when we knew Jitu Rai had little chance of finishing in the top 8 to qualify for the finals, we were optimistic and busy making permutations-combinations.
Shooting has lately emerged as the most productive sport for India at the Summer Games. In the last three Olympics, we have begun our medal count with shooting. India have so far shot a silver in Athens, gold in Beijing, and two more medals in London. Sadly, luck has not smiled on our shooters in Rio after seven unproductive days, with no one scooping a medal.
Abhinav Bindra, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, and Mairaj Ahmad Khan gave us hopes only to shatter them a few minutes later. Once comfortably placed in the match, Gagan Narang let the match slip away at crucial junctures. We were not that bad with our performance but vital goof-ups took the matches away from us. Jitu Rai was expected to bring home a medal, but finished 8th in 10m air pistol final and unfortunately he couldn’t qualify for the final in 50m air pistol.
The last medal success from tennis came way back in 1996, a bronze. But this time, like the last 16 years, the glamorous tennis stars have given us heartbreaking performances. Leander Paes crashed out in the first round and his partner Rohan Bopanna along with Sania Mirza slumped to a disappointing loss in the semi-finals against Venus Williams-Rajeev Ram.
In track and field, while Lalita Babar created history to reach the finals of the 3000m steeplechase, ace discus thrower Vikas Gowda has been a big disappointment. Obviously, we had lesser expectations from the debutants statistically.
Hockey saw some of the biggest heartbreaks as the team lost in the last quarter to Germany and the Netherlands. Indian participants joined the action in three other disciplines – judo, table tennis, and weightlifting – but failed to make any impact. Pugilists Vikas Krishan and Manoj Kumar shone for India where, while Shiva Thapa failed.
Some also made it big this time, like Bombayla Devi who came into the limelight out of nowhere with her wonderful game. Atanu Das went on to hit 10 after 10 when others expected him to be just an underdog. Dipa Karmakar and Dattu Bhokanal have put forward impressive performances in the two-least followed sports in our country. The former's qualification for the vault final proved to be the saving grace in the first week.
Yes, we have come across many impressive performances from the Indian contingent, but 'Jana Gana Mana' has not echoed in Rio de Janerio.
With the wrestlers achieving spectacular success on the mat in recent times, there will be expectations from Yogeshwar Dutt and Vinesh Phogat to fetch that piece of metal which has eluded us so far at the Games. We have had a bumpy ride so far but we can't keep thinking about what has happened so far. Instead, we must look ahead with a positive frame of mind.
Looking at the bigger picture, it’s time to realize that a lot still needs to be done at the grassroots level. After an impressive performance in London, this edition has been an alarm bell for us. Let us not put us into snooze mode for the next four years. We can take a baby step ahead every day and work towards making our nation a more dominant force to reckon with in the world of sports. We must do that before the likes of Dattu Bhokanal and Mirabai Chanu fall into the curse of oblivion.
The haul of six medals should not be an untouched chapter in Indian sporting history. It simply can’t be.
Clinging to a thin thread of hopes, we are showing uneasiness when other countries are winning medals, instead of realizing what can be done to set things on the right track. Because after all, "Yeh India hai. yahan aisa hi hota hain".
At times, we have made statements about why our athletes are participating with the best in the world, but only a few would realise that he or she is one among the few who qualified for a shot at the podium finish by defying all odds. We have wondered that when other countries can snatch medals from the jaws of defeat then why not us, Indians.
There is no question of talent not being present. The need of the hour is to have a proper system free of corruption to make selections more transparent. If America had made Michael Phelps solve mathematical problems rather than be in the pool, the world would not have seen him winning 23 gold medals.
But, it will be unfair on our part to compare us with the American hare. If we wish to encourage youngsters of this country to help India win international events, then we need to give the contingent a place in our hearts.
As I write, I can assure you that I haven’t lost the optimist in me yet. A few grams of metal is all that’s needed to lift a nation.