It’s been heartening to see the Olympic spirit capture the imagination of the whole nation over the last few days. People have been fully immersed in the spectacle that is the Games; they have become a part of the triumphs and heartbreaks that signify the greatest show on Earth.
The Olympic fever has well and truly set in, with Indian fans experiencing the richness of the Games like never before.
Not all of our athletes have medaled at Tokyo, but they HAVE all fought marvelously on the biggest stage, keeping us hooked to the action. And sometimes, that's all anyone can ask for.
Indian shooters missed the target, but all is not lost
Speaking about my discipline in particular, we cannot escape the fact that shooting has disappointed us at this particular Games. I personally expected our shooters to win a few medals, but that was not to be.
Calm introspection is the need of the hour right now. We need to contemplate what went wrong in order to avoid repeating those errors going forward.
A lot of work has gone into taking our athletes to the elite level they are at right now. But I am sure there have been mistakes as well.
The quest for Olympic glory is an adventure, a roller-coaster ride that is filled with many ups and downs. The journey is not a dreary job that involves shuffling papers; heartbreaks, crises and frustrations are part and parcel of it.
But that is precisely what makes it all the more fulfilling. The perilous path to glory is what makes the Olympics the epitome of sporting achievement.
I would like to state on record that I was not on the ground and therefore not directly involved with the athletes. I am only sharing what I have felt while watching the action unfold from the outside.
I think what went wrong fundamentally was that there was a denial of pressure. I believe the system and the training regimen were geared towards making the shooters relaxed. It was almost like you just have to go and do your work, shoot normally, and bang! you end up with a medal.
But it never pans out that way at the Olympics. One of the biggest mistakes you can make on the big stage is to try and run away from pressure.
The endeavor to create a make-believe world which cushions you from pressure, which makes you feel that it is a normal competition, is not the right way to go. If that was indeed attempted, as it looks from the outside, then it’s not hard to understand the reason behind the setbacks.
It seems to me that the shooters were not prepared well enough for the Olympic pressure.
When the pressure comes, you have to be armed with resilience. You have to have the mental, physical and technical nous to cope with it. You have to be able to look at your game holistically.
You cannot find a way out of this pressure; you have to learn to co-exist with it. You have to endure it, feel it, walk with it throughout the competition. The importance of accepting the pressure was, I believe, not fully appreciated by our team this time.
What I also perceived was that there was an absence of a plan B among our athletes. They seemed to be heavily reliant on plan A, which is perfectly fine as long as things are going your way. But at the Olympics, there will inexorably be a crisis. In competitions of this magnitude, you need adaptability; you need a plan B to fall back on.
I did not see the presence of one when plan A collapsed this time around.
But as I said, calm introspection is what can help Indian shooting get out of this rut. A lot of good work has been done, and there are many young athletes in the mix who continue to have tremendous potential. Now it is time to nurture that potential into tangible results.
The moment of crisis will always arrive at some point during the Olympics, because it is a long competition. Paris might be the second Games for some of these athletes, but that doesn't mean the element of pressure would have disappeared. In fact, it might even have increased.
So you will have to find a way for your body not to collapse, for your mind to stay in the game and for your technique - which is the most important part of your armory - to withstand the pressure.
You have to appreciate what went right, acknowledge what went wrong, and improve your processes and systems accordingly.
The unique Olympic cycle this time will be tough on the athletes
What also needs to be taken into account is the fact that we are in a very unique Olympic cycle. Even as the Tokyo Olympics goes on, we must remember that the Paris Olympics cycle began a year back. That is tough for the athletes, as it requires them to get back into top gear immediately.
We don’t even know if the same athletes will make it to Paris, as shooting is an extremely dynamic sport. I know the kind of depth there is in the shooting arena in India.
We need to have a plan in place. Qualification events for the next cycle will begin shortly, and that will make things harder.
Generally, athletes take the year after the Games a little slower, relaxing a little, while also focusing on pure training to hone and perfect their skills further. But this time around, time is at a premium.
Qualification events for the next cycle will perhaps have already begun by next year. Thus, we need to think about the situation and plan very precisely for it.
The inspiring performances of our athletes have united the nation
There have been several inspiring performances in other sports at this year’s Olympics. I have always maintained that the Games provide lots of chances for success and glory in a variety of disciplines. And that is exactly what has transpired.
Mirabai Chanu has done the country proud, PV Sindhu has also done brilliantly. Though Sindhu didn’t make the final, she fought hard and won a bronze to become a double Olympic medalist. That is an astounding feat to say the least.
In boxing Lovlina Borgohain clinched an important bronze medal, which could be the start of something big.
The men’s hockey team has united the country like never before. It has been a fantastic experience watching them play. The team showed great grit and determination to recover from that loss to Australia, a loss that was hard to stomach.
Now they will play for bronze, which will again be hard. They have to recover physically, mentally and emotionally and shake off the disappointment of the semifinal loss.
The women’s hockey players have also done amazingly well, giving several memorable moments to the fans. They have been the surprise of the Games, really; nobody expected them to come this far. And no matter where they finish, their tremendous performances will have inspired a whole generation of girls to take up sports. That is a fabulous achievement in itself.
Athletes from the entire Olympics contingent, whether they win or lose, have the power to inspire and impact our society. Some of them have won and shown us the grit and determination it takes to win at the Olympics. Some have lost, and we have learned from those setbacks like the athletes themselves.
We the fans have undergone similar feelings of heartbreak and agony with them. As human beings we need to learn to be sporting in nature, and that is where an event like the Olympics helps.
We see the hard work and discipline come through; we see the heroic ways in which losses are taken on the chin. There has been a whole host of important lessons to take for our young society in India.
That, for me, is the true Olympic spirit.
We as a nation have been waking up early every day to catch the action, and the unity on display has been heartwarming. It wouldn't be wrong to say the athletes have been galvanizing us in beautiful fashion.
I don’t know what our final medal haul will be; we have the wrestlers coming up, who have a good chance. But irrespective of that, the Olympics team has inspired our young society with the values I spoke of. And that, for me, has been the greatest victory.
The lesser-known sports have thrown up refreshing surprises
It’s always refreshing to see athletes, who perhaps were not in the limelight as much as some of their compatriots, rise to the occasion and showcase their hard work and talent.
You have to possess oodles of self-motivation and boundless energy to chip away when not many outside your sport know you. Of course, boxing fans and close observers of the sport would have already known about Lovlina Borgohain, considering the successes she has had at major competitions (including the World Championships). But the general public has been largely unaware of her incredible skills.
Apart from Lovlina, we have had great performances in equestrian, sailing and fencing too. The athletes in these lesser-known sports may not have won medals, but they have definitely made their mark at the Olympics.
Historically we have not had much success in these disciplines, but now we are taking small steps in the right direction. That, needless to say, is great for the development of sports in the country.
We are moving away from our focus on just two or three sports, and instead trying to attain a high level in a wide range of them. That is crucial if we aim to achieve Olympics dominance; you can never become a top Olympic nation if you are successful in just one or two sports.
What the Olympics meant to me then and what it means to me now
This has been a very different Olympics for me because, for the first time after 20-odd years, I am watching the Games as a fan. It is a very different experience for me.
When I was competing, I wanted to win; I wanted to get that gold medal. I achieved my goals then, but now I appreciate the Olympic Games much more because of what they stand for.
Back when I was competing, it was a sport for me in which I had to strive to be the best version of myself. Now, I believe, I have a more holistic understanding of the meaning of the Games; I can see the power of this event more vividly.
I now appreciate the values that the Olympics highlight, and how the Games unite people. I have a better understanding of the true meaning of sport, and of the Olympic spirit that is being reflected in every event.
Of course, I root for our athletes and I want them to do well. But I also appreciate the spirit behind it all; the experiences they are having, the life lessons they are learning, and the memories they are creating.
The lessons that we can glean from the Olympics are not just invaluable for the sporting community, but for the society at large. I probably didn’t appreciate these aspects too well as a competitor, because I was so focused on my own performance. But now, I appreciate the real meaning of the Olympic Games much more.