PV Sindhu| Photo: PTI
As the three Jamaican sprinters took control of the 100m women's event, always a blue-band event in the Olympics, it was a fascinating sight. Pity that the Tokyo stadium had none in the gallery to see and vociferously cheer and enjoy this rare sight because of the stringent Covid protocol measures, but unmindful of this supporting factor as the three ran, as if telling each other “I will finish first and you two take the next two spots” and whizzed past for a grand 1-2-3 finish with a new Olympic Record to boot, once heart went aflutter. How much joy it had created to this trio as it must have to the millions watching on television, not to speak of the celebration that must have triggered back home in Jamaica.! The land of Usain Bolt, the legend, these three runners had done the country proud even as they enriched the athletics setting in the latest Olympics. Some such thoughts crossed one's mind seeing on the other hand the athletes of another country, our own India, yearning, struggling and tottering to find a place in the sun on the greatest sporting stage !
Virtually every four years, on the eve of this quadrennial Games, expectations and promises soar to Himalayan heights until when the actual action unfolds the meltdown begins. As it happened things have not been at least to start with much different this time too. That India's best Olympic showing had been in London 2012 with six medals shows where the country of this huge size is placed on the world Olympic map. Somehow there was a feeling, perhaps from all the information that had come on the contingents preparation plans, training (home and abroad) and general conditioning that a turning point was reaching. Then there was this former Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju raising optimism that the Tokyo Olympics could see India break its past record and what is more, help in creating a bigger sporting culture in the country. The positive note reflected in the size of the contingent ( over hundred and biggest till date) and participation (18 disciplines, again a bigger spread). More than all that was the news that the Government had spent over 1000 crores under various heads and disciplines towards grooming up the participants. In short there seem to have been genuine attempts to make a big difference.
With the shooters time and again in events from World Cups and others, bringing in happy tidings, shooting seemed a focus area. Indeed Abhinav Bindra after his gold-medal success in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games had certainly inspired a new generation of exciting talent into this tough sport of skill and concentration. Enriching the setting was the consistent show of young sensations like Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Choudhary and Elavenil Valarivan and the hope was for a new golden chapter. We know now what happened and what it is to soak in Olympic pressure! The downfall was so glaring. Archery was another sport that was supposed to bring dividends, particularly from the bow of India's best bet Deepika Kumari, who after falling short in the two previous Games had come in now additionally as World's best. Darkness prevailed there too as Deepika slipped away. As they say when adversity strikes, it comes as a storm.Two disciplines which were set to open up an inspiring route for the rest of the Indian contingent, flopped. Why does that winning touch go, why is that resilience missing, well questions like that will keep surfacing. It would be worth a study even as these developments underline the role of mental conditioning.
Or better still, as it happened, is to pick a leaf from the great face-saving act of that weightlifting ace Mirabai Chanu, the one brave lady from Manipur who could put that little smile on every Indian's face with her big-hearted effort that fetched her and the country, a silver medal! In an overwhelming air of melancholy, this pint-sized brave girl brought a reason for hope and how! The failure in the Rio Olympics, four or shall we say five years ago was a stain she wanted to erase from her mind. The years of training, keeping away from family and the sacrifices, finally paid off in Tokyo. The calmness apart, the confidence and poise she showed were certainly things that had to be seen! Not once it would seem did she take the Chinese contender and eventual winner Zhihui Hou for a serious rivalry. Instead she went about her efforts with a cool head and ensured the silver medal was hers. The performance reflected her potential., a factor which alas seemed missing in earlier Indian disappointment stories.
Maybe after Chanu there is still room for added happy tidings. Who else but the gritty P.V. Sindhu has ensured that. Always known for her champion skills this badminton star had actually set out for a gold after the silver medal success in Rio. Maybe like many other sportspersons in India and abroad her schedules went touch awry, thanks to the pandemic. Critics felt she had dropped in her enviable standards and when she lost in the sem-final it seemed an end to the journey. But bouncing back like one who had been denied her due, Sindhu touched her wonted form to ensure a bronze and earn a place in history as well_ second Indian and first woman to win a medal in successive Olympics. Wrestler Satish Kumar had achieved this earlier. Her sights are already on Paris 2024. Talk of ambition and sure Sindhu is another whom the aspiring future stars can emulate!
Sindhu may have just about nudged open the doors of more possibilities for Indians. Boxer Lovlina Borgohain is assured of a medal. Athlete Neeraj Chopra (javelin) could stretch the count as also it is hoped, the wrestlers and men's hockey team! Not to be left behind is the women's hockey team which is doing wonders. Awe-inspiring gains despite a disappointing start.