Action shifts to Tokyo!
It seemed a virtual throwback to the pre-pandemic days. What the fans were used to was amply provided by the Euro Cup, the Copa America and the Wimbledon, all the finals coming as they did in a quick sequence on a single day! The brilliance and emotional outpouring seemed just in keeping with the character of any competition finale let alone events of such high nature. For a moment at least the virus was forgotten. Surely, the spectators in Wembley showed that as they jostled, cheered and were repeatedly on their feet backing the home team England to grab that elusive Euro honour. Only everything ended in vain.
England failed to break the hoodoo of not winning anything big since that 1966 world cup triumph. Rival Italy on the other hand could erase out that horror memory of not qualifying for the 2018 world cup. If fire crackers greeted Italy's triumph in Rome, then dismay was too evident on the streets in London. Not far away at Wimbledon there was another moment of significance with the Serb great, Novak Djokovic in front of adoring fans, adding one more Grand Slam to his kitty, his 20th to equal the feat of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The sporting excitement did not end there for at far way Maracana stadium, sparsely filled, Argentina pipped Brazil in the Copa America final. Like England earlier, Brazil too cut a sorry figure in front of home gathering but for Lionel Messi it was a moment of reckoning. His glistening career received the lustre that was missing till then.
For all the wonders he had done in the sport to earn laurels all around this one shortcoming _ not able to take his country to any trophy triumph _ had hung around his neck like a string of thorn. In 2014 at this same venue, he had the disappointment of seeing Argentina lose the final against Germany. But all that was past as Argentina won and skipper Messi earned the greatness he had long been yearning to justifiably place himself alongside Maradona in the history of Argentinian ,nay World football!
Normally such sporting highs would have been just the prelude to an event like the Olympics! But then is it, is the question. Suddenly the talk of pandemic is back and in the midst of fighting the deadly virus, the Tokyo Games has to go on. If in 1964 when this first Asian city to host this sporting extravaganza, had wished global spectators to come in large numbers on this occasion ironically Tokyo had put bar on all!
A Games that normally trigger excitement and ecstasy for the thousands and thousands who would have given up anything just to be there to witness the action, will this time have none in the stands! Like the silent movie era, the Olympics will witness a Silent Games with action but no reverberation from the galleries!. Just hours remain for the big event to open and in place of excitement, what is perceptible is anxiety and concern for a safe and incident-free Games.
Be that as it may, it has been a long wait for the athletes and their pent up desires and aspirations have to find a meaning. As the International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach put it, Tokyo Games like all its predecessors will churn out new “stars and legends”. Does not matter if there is no standing ovation like the way say a Usain Bolt had received for his impeccable sprints, but this still is a stage for realising dreams.
India too dreams of a bigger haul of medals. Its best we know has been in the 2012 London Olympics (six medals) and the hope is for something better in Tokyo. With a bigger contingent this time, the biggest till date, the signals are positive. Rio Games in 2016 brought forth just two medals - P.V. Sindhu ( a silver in badminton) and Sakshi Malik (a bronze in freestyle wrestling) - but there will be more is the refrain. Sindhu is still there, as the defending world champion and in much better frame of mind and fitness as she claimed. “A gold” is her aim but Sakshi is not there to attempt a better outcome.
But there are others to expectedly string together stories of guts and glory. Shooters for instance. After Abhinav Bindra's sensational show in Beijing in 2008, this sport had received a true impetus. Shooters with rich credentials have come forth. The 19-year old Saurabh Choudhary is one. A potential medal winner in the 10 m airpistol event is what experts believe. In five world cups he has two golds, two silver and a bronze. What more can be said of this calm and fearless lad? Besides in Manu Bhaker's company the duo have been almost unbeatable in the mixed event, newly introduced this time. And there could be more surprises in shooting. Expectations are high on Mirabai Chanu in the 49th kg women's weightlifting. A 2017 world champion, she missed out a medal in Rio. She could make amends here.
Wrestling, boxing and archery are other possible good-news area for India even as the hockey teams, men and women look up with fresh hopes. Once the most successful nation in men's hockey, it was in Tokyo that India had regained the gold standard after losing it for the first time four years earlier in Rome.
However since 1980 Moscow Indian hockey has never been a medal winner, let alone gold. Will the second visit to Tokyo inspire another comeback? And to complete the possible happy tiding could be new Athletics sensation, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. Many say this Asian Games javelin champion could provide India's first ever athletics medal in Olympics As world number 4 and fiercely competitive, Neeraj has in him to script a happy tale! Enough optimism then on the eve of the action!