Looking for a new landmark in Indian sports


by S.R Suryanarayan

4 min read
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Neeraj Chopra | AFP

It is that time of the year when sports, in general, come in for special notice. We are in the year of the Asian Games, and Hangzhou City in China is all set to host the mega event of the continent in another few days. What should have happened a year ago but got postponed in the wake of the covid restrictions the sporting drama is finally ready to unfold. The news from the host city is one of enthusiasm and excitement even as China launched the torch relay as the first step towards kickstarting the Games in another ten days' time. Indeed, from India’s point of view, hopes and aspirations are soaring for a grand performance and a record-medal finish this time.

At the last edition in Jakarta, India had its best haul of 70 medals, and what is more, the country had bettered the 15-gold tally achieved at the inaugural 1951 games held in India, winning 16. In the pursuit of excellence in the sporting arena, India had never had it so good. Many saw it as a leap forward, and as the Hangzhou meet gets ready, the lookout for India is not just carrying on with the good work but achieving even more, a landmark perhaps. Both P.T. Usha, the former sprint queen, and current IOA President and the Union Sports Minister Mr. Anurag Thakur believe it would be the best-ever medals haul by the Indian athletes this time.

As a prelude to what hopefully will be happy tidings, perhaps is the happenings on the cricket field in the Asia Cup, where India aspires to regain its premier status in the continent. India last won in 2018, and the event now in Sri Lanka will show whether the country’s cricketing strength can match the achievements of the past. As always, the key pointer in this competition is the contest involving India and Pakistan. Some see these two as the front runners, though it must be said that it was Sri Lanka, which had emerged as the winner last time in UAE. Interesting days are ahead, but considering this Asia Cup is virtually a dress rehearsal for the World Cup to follow in India, the importance of an Indian win can be understood from the right perspective. Every cricket lover in India would yearn to see a home success, and what better inspiration can there be than for the Hangzhou-bound Indian athletes?

The Indian athletes competing in the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games | AFP

Talk of inspiration, and none in recent times has uplifted the spirits of Indian sports better than that humble but giant performer Neeraj Chopra. True he had dropped a little after the world championship with a second-place finish in the Zurich Diamond League. That result ended his winning streak this season, having topped at Doha, Lausanne Diamond Leagues and Budapest World Championship. What experts noticed in this runner-up finish in Zurich is the way he had come back from fifth place with his final throw! As he was to admit later, he aimed to respect his body, stay healthy and give his best. With 90 m being his target for some time, maybe, just maybe, Hangzhou could well see that historic moment arrive to leave every Indian ecstatic.

There is no doubt that in the 650-odd contingent to the Asiad, and that includes him, Neeraj would be the performer every colleague of his would look to. The first-ever Indian to win a gold in the World Athletics championship, this Haryana man is already qualified to earn the status of India’s best-ever athlete, and the story has not ended yet. How much it has had a positive impact on others can be adjudged from just one other performance that of India’s 4x400 m men’s relay team at the same Budapest meet. Muhammed Anas, Amoj Jacob, Muhammed Ajmal and Rajesh Ramesh may not have won a medal for they finished fifth, But reaching the final round in this event itself was a first-timer and added to create a new Asian record. Unprecedented happenings that augur well for the competitions ahead. Then there was woman steeplechaser Parul Chaudhury, who set a new national record.

While athletics should provide the lead, India’s hopes also lay in the hands of others like the hockey teams (men and women), badminton stars, boxing, chess, table tennis, weightlifting, wrestling and squash. Only a few months ago, the Indian pair of Harinder Pal Sandhu and Dipika Pallikal Karthik had won the mixed doubles gold in the Asian mixed doubles squash championship. Now this is to be a newly introduced event in Hangzhou, and Indians have already begun well. Besides, all eyes will also be on squash veteran Saurav Ghosal, a winner of silver and bronze medals earlier, and all eager now for the gold this time. The men’s hockey team is on a high after the Asia Cup success in Chennai, and with a well-set team is keenly looking for a triumph in the Asiad, something that is essential for India to get a berth for the Paris Olympics next year.

Add to that names like Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (badminton), Nikhat Zareen (world champion boxer), Manu Bhaker (shooting), Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting), Bajrang Punia (wrestling), not to forget the Indian cricket teams and of course our most talented chess squad with Praggnanandha, the world cup runner-up himself there. There could be more. On paper, at least, the possibilities of a grand finish look high, in tune with the line of thinking of Union Minister Mr Thakur as he talked of the Rs 220 crores set aside for the Asian Games preparations that included over 140 foreign camps and 71 national camps. Pointers look rosy, and now, the wait starts for everything to fall in place. Hangzhou could well be a new dawn for Indian sports!

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