The finale to the Tokyo Olympics saw the Indian contingent finishing on a high. The boxing competition was intense and I think our boxers did quite well this time.
The boxing team we had sent to the Tokyo Games was our largest ever. These boxers were representing the country at the Olympic level, which is always a big thing, so the lack of a gold rush is far from a failure.
We have to think positively, and the great thing is that we are not returning empty-handed. I believe our boxers will only go from strength to strength in the coming years.
There was some controversy regarding MC Mary Kom’s loss, which was tough to swallow for many. But this is the Olympics and not a state championship; it is expected to be very tough. If there is some doubt you should, of course, protest, and the authorities might even change the decision in exceptional circumstances. But what’s done is done, and for me the controversy was not a big deal.
Lovlina Borgohain, however, was a revelation. She was excellent in every sense of the word, and I was particularly impressed with her fighting qualities.
This was Lovlina’s first Olympics and she proved that she can dominate at this level. She has risen through the domestic ranks to stand toe-to-toe with the best in her sport. The Turkish boxer she lost to is a world champion; there is no shame in losing to such an opponent.
I believe Lovlina can do even better at the next Olympics in Paris, because she will be carrying along with her some valuable experience.
One off day can make a big difference
What happened to Amit Panghal can happen to the very best. We are all humans, and there are bound to be off-days. The body is not always 100 percent; one day you might be full of energy but the next day you might feel drained. This is a game after all, and it was just not Panghal’s day.
I went through a similar experience in 2012. Having beaten the World No. 1, I went down to an Uzbek boxer – someone I had beaten before – in the quarterfinal. But this is part and parcel of sport.
Our team needs more support
Coming back to our future Olympic prospects, I think India’s boxers need more top-quality exposure as well as world-class physios and doctors. That will definitely add to the team’s quality and competitiveness.
I still remember the unfortunate way Vinesh Phogat got knocked out from the 2016 Olympics because of an ankle injury. Such things can happen in any combat sport, and they need to be tackled better with the help of better support staff.
The teams should also have psychologists traveling with them. There is a lot of stress at the Olympics, especially since it takes place only once every four years. You need someone to talk to in such a high-pressure environment; you need someone to help relieve your stress. Psychologists can act as a real calming and motivating influence in tough situations.
In India, we don’t talk enough about mental health, but needless to say it is a very important aspect of sport and also of life in general. For athletes, especially young athletes playing their first Olympics, maintaining the right mental framework is of utmost importance.
The athletes need to be fully focused and motivated at the Games, which is crucial to their chances of success. The experienced members of the contingent could also share their experiences with the newcomers so as to calm their nerves.
Our athletes are certainly capable of great success. And even Indian coaches are very good at what they do, a prime example being GS Sandhu. We will definitely make more progress with time; we just need to ensure that we have the right support team on hand throughout.
Hockey success could not have been sweeter
We have grown up listening to stories about the magician Dhyan Chand; we have been regaled since childhood by narratives of his exploits with the stick. It wouldn’t be wrong to say hockey is in our blood.
That is why this 41-year wait could not have felt any better.
I think hockey should be declared the national game. The entire world participates in the Olympics, and I want our hockey team to achieve more success at this level because it is part of our sporting heritage. My request is for more people to support the sport, and for more sponsors to come forward.
As far as these Games are concerned, I think both the men and women’s teams made the country proud. And I’m sure they will continue to make us proud in the years to come!
We have done well, but we should not be satisfied
Yes, this Olympics has seen many, many inspiring performances and has given us our best ever medal haul. Neeraj Chopra's achievement cannot be paralleled and has brought great joy to the nation. But we should still not be satisfied with a single-digit tally.
We are a country of more than 130 crore people; why should we be content with this number of medals when countries with far less population are getting a lot more? We have made a lot of progress, but we need to go much further. The environment, the facilities and the infrastructure need to keep evolving.
For me, the Olympics is the embodiment of ultimate sporting glory; it was the proudest moment of my life to represent the country at the 2008 Games. And, I want our athletes to experience moments like that too. I want them to keep growing and keep getting more success, because it doesn’t get bigger than this.