A note on the Rio Olympics and India
The no-good idiotic loudmouths of the Shobha De variety notwithstanding, and equally those ignorantly bemoaning the lack of medals… this has actually been one of the more improved outings for India at the Olympics and a harbinger of better times to come. The Indian delegation at Rio is its largest ever at Olympics, comprising of 117 athletes spread across various individual and team disciplines. This itself is a sign of a growing culture of sports, of greater interest and hope for improved infrastructure. And though we won 6 medals at the 2012 Olympics, our results this time are markedly better even if we may not have as many medals to show. This time around we have made a mark in events where one doesn’t even think of India participating in, let alone coming close to a medal by such close margins. The media has displayed its ignorance in these matters, and its desire to feed into the simplistic narrative of competitive sports and events such as the multilevelled Olympics as merely about the gold-silver-&-bronze, by not reporting or highlighting the many other achievements of the Indian contingent at Rio. This when we lap up 1-run victories over minnows like Bangladesh in cricket T20 internationals!
- The women’s team in Archery comprising of Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and Laxmirani Majhi reached till the quarterfinals, and lost to 2nd ranked Russia.
- Srikanth Kidambi in the men’s singles Badminton also went till the quarterfinals where he lost to 3rd seeded Lin Dan of China.
- The 18 year old Aditi Ashok from Bengaluru is currently in the 8th position out of 60 players after 2 rounds in the women’s Golf event, with 2 more rounds left to go. She currently has a score of 6 under par, with the board leader just 4 shots away at 10 under par.
- Sakshi Malik won India its first medal, a Bronze in the 58kgs category of the women’s freestyle Wrestling; but spare a thought also for Vinesh Phogat (she of the famous Phogat sisters that Bollywood will immortalize later this year in the Aamir Khan starring Dangal), who if it weren’t for her freak injury would most assurredly have gone further than her truncated run at the quarterfinals of the 48kgs category in women’s freestyle Wrestling. Her opponent at the quarters, Sun Yanan of China, eventually won the Bronze medal. The men’s freestyle Wrestling is yet to happen, and India should look forward to a good result there as well.
- The 4th seeded duo of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna were favourites to net India one of its first medals, since in the Tennis mixed doubles event 2 of the top 4 seeds went out in the first round and the third withdrew. Mirza and Bopanna faced stiff opposition however from the American duo of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram (of Indian origin) to lose in the semifinals. Their hopes for a Bronze medal were dashed as well when they lost to the Czech pair of Hradecka and Stepanek. But a 4th place is still a 4th place and not one to be rubbished off.
- In men’s Shooting, Abhinav Bindra missed the Bronze medal by 20 points to settle for the 4th rank in the 10 metres air rifle category, while Jitu Rai qualified for the finals of the 10 metres air pistol category in 6th position out of 46 shooters to finish at rank 8 in the finals.
- While there are still quite a few categories in the men and women’s track and road events of Athletics where Indian athletes will be performing, it must be noted that Lalita Babar qualified 4th for the finals of the women’s 3000 metres steeplechase out of 53 competitors, and ranked 10th at the end of it.
- All eyes will be on 9th seeded PV Sindhu as she takes on 1st seed Carolina Marin of Spain for the Gold medal in the women’s singles Badminton. On her road to an assured Silver medal, every opponent that Sindhu has beaten was seeded higher than her, including 2nd seed Wang Yihan of China whom she trumped in the quarterfinals.
- Vikas Yadav lost at the quarterfinals of the men’s middleweight Boxing to eventual finalist Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan. Had there been the system of repechage at Boxing like Wrestling, Yadav could very well have been in the running for a Bronze medal like Sakshi Malik.
- The men’s team in the Field Hockey tournament qualified from their group for the quarterfinals where they lost to runners-up at the finals, Belgium. Earlier in the group stages, India defeated eventual winners and Gold medallists Argentina. On an aside, the Indian Hockey team needs to get back to its glory days. We still hold the record for the most Olympic medals in Hockey, winning 11 medals in 12 Olympics until 1980.
- Dipa Karmakar of Tripura remains the story of this Olympics. She created history by becoming the first Indian, male or female, to qualify for the Gymnastics event. Not one to be content with just that, she almost won a Bronze medal, coming in 4th at the women’s artistic vault event a hairline 0.150 points behind the 3rd place holder; and infact scoring higher in the 2nd and final of the 2 vault jumps than the Bronze and Silver winners even with a death manouevre that only 5 gymnasts internationally attempt!
- The other story of this Olympics, however a cruelly ironic one, is that of Dattu Bhokanal. Coming from a stone-crushing labourer family in drought-stricken Maharashtra, Bhokanal placed 3rd among 32 qualifiers in the heats of the men’s single sculls Rowing, came fourth in the quarterfinals and got relegated to the non-medal semifinals where he came in 2nd to finally placing 1st in the non-medal finals!
Given the hoops of apathy, dogma, neglect and bureaucracy that our athletes jump through to make it to the world stage, they deserve gold medals for that alone. Their qualifying through hundreds of international players from the best of countries with the most advanced of sporting infrastructure and heavily invested sporting cultures needs to be acknowledged and respected for what it is, than merely being armchair critics and scoffing at the lack of medals. The next time we celebrate an Indian cricket team that wins a ‘World Cup’, it would be wise to remember that ‘that’ world comprises of but 10 nations. There’s a reason why even the Olympics doesn’t recognize cricket as a global sport. Not that we must take away anything from our cricketing heroes, but a little perspective when looking at our other sportspersons in other sports would do us all good. So celebrate Sakshi and Sindhu… but also these others who have all in their own right done India very proud. Else we would be only slightly different than the Shobha De types… she mocked that we couldn’t win medals, we will only be slightly better by championing only those that do.
Abhishek ‘Abzee’ Bandekar