Swimming legend Michael Phelps' India visit, a missed opportunity?
These are not just summer time in India but cricket fever days what with the IPL catching the imagination of all and sundry, the initiated and uninitiated to the sport with each hosting centre providing the proof with milling crowds in the stadium. Yet for all this there was this one small moment, not connected with cricket though, which in itself made history of sorts in the country.
We are talking of swimming legend Michael Phelps' visit to India. Not often do we hear of great sporting legends visiting the country and so when the greatest of all, easily the pride of a human specimen, Phelps makes it, it certainly has to be one of those sporting moments that that has to be described in golden letters. The American swimming legend may have come not with any sporting assignment but as a brand ambassador of an Apparel company but for a man of such sporting deeds to take his first step in this country is something that had to be rejoiced.
Imagine, if only the entire sporting fraternity in the country had found out a way, chalked out a programme to take him all parts of the country, to every nook of the nation it would have been the biggest inspiration for sporting talents of every sport, not just swimming. Such is his appeal and why not with 23 Olympic gold medals spread over four Olympics from 2004 and 26 gold medals in World championship, Phelps has achieved everything and proved to the world what excellence is all about.
Indeed, when in 2008 at the Beijing Olympic Games, he picked up an incredible eight gold medals to beat the 1972 record of his country-mate Mark Spitz of seven gold medals, he seemed to have achieved what many had felt was impossible till then. But then when the man himself considers “Records are meant to be broken”, this was only a manifestation of his gifted talent. No wonder Spitz himself admitted later, “He (Phelps) is the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.”
Years ago when P.T. Usha was at her zenith, none had heard of any sporting legends venturing to India. Indian sports inspiration then was drawn from Usha's great exploits. The great lady was a phenomenon in Asia and before long Usha had become a household name. In fact, Usha's success was in keeping with India's aspirations in big events and when this Payolli express as she later was called for her spectacular runs, failed by a hundreth of a second in winning an Olympic medal in 1984 the entire nation of sports fans commiserated with her on her ill-luck.
She had deserved that big moment of joy and it is that desire in her to see someone surpasses her achievements that she ploughed the wealth of her knowledge and experience into an Athletics School of her own. Time will tell when Usha will get to realise her dream but as long as she was there active in her runs, this Kerala athlete was a source of inspiration . That even now she is subject of interest is a testimony to what her stature is.
Sports is all about inspiration and that is why the presence of great performers matter. Usha did it in her own humble way and there was this chance moment now with Phelps that could have been utilised as an impetus to a positive change. For, right from the time he took to swimming at the age of seven because his parents wanted to channelise his boundless energy into productive lines, the time his coach Bob Bowman concluded he had seen in the boy a world class potential, Phelps was in a journey of awakening so to say.
He was just 15 years when he made it to the US team for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Nothing much happened there but from 2004 in Athens began the phenomenal changes before things reached a crescendo four years later in Beijing. That he has collected more Olympic medals than 161 countries speaks for the man, the legend.
Yet for this, the American looked humble in his achievements and so human in the way he shared his experience to that lucky audience in New Delhi. And did he say anything new, except to stress on training and never to miss that even one day! But coming from the man himself made the difference. “Miss one day and you develop a two-day lag” he would say of the intensity of the schedule required to be a top achiever.
There was no short cut to success. Dream big, self motivation, dedication and sheer hard work, words that the stars of tomorrow and many on the anvil of greatness needed to listen from the big man himself to imbibe and make an impact. It is not that India does not have world class performers. We have come a long a long way that way with facilities and training gaining strength overall. But they still needed to be inspired by great achievers to capture that extra which makes the difference between being a performer and a winner.
Reams can be written on the great swimmer's exploits in the pool but at the end of the day nothing can match the aura and the vibrance of the man in person. That is why Phelps short visit could be considered a miss in a way for the very many aspiring sporting talents across the country. One heart-warming happening is that unlike in the past sporting heroes have been finding occasions lately to visit India. We have had cricketing greats, top footballers too like Pele and Maradona. So may be there is hope for more. Talk of opportunities!