Indian athletes disappointing Rio Olympics returns will start temporary debates about facilities, about officials travelling, about economy class travel, about all and sundry excuses. But that would be missing the whole point. Indian athletes have certain ‘blocks’ at the biggest stage and most of them need better mental and physical preparation in future.
After Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, I had detailed the poor conversion rate Indian athletes had after reaching finals – a meagre 33% – and questioned if this was an indicator for Rio 2016. Am afraid it was.
Before the mega quadrennial event at Rio, I had major hopes from India’s largest Olympic contingent ever – 119 athletes – and had listed out the medal prospects who are all ranked in world’s top ten.
Excuses no more
When a player is ranked in the world’s top ten, then he/she has done it either with or despite the system, the facilities, the Babudom and the corruption. We aren’t the only corrupt country in the world. Nor the only disturbed one.
Iran, Romania, Vietnam, Kenya, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and Georgia have all won medals. Some of these countries are massively affected with civil war, poverty and/or frequent terrorist strikes.
That India’s talent tapping system is improving can be gauged by the fact that we sent a 119 large contingent. In 1996, only 49 competitors had sailed. In 20 years we have more than doubled the count of athletes qualifying for Olympics.
There were reports which suggested that for Rio, the ministry approved players reaching Rio even earlier (than usual), acclimatize more, higher stipends, more technical staff than admin or bureaucrats and massive cash prize, government job offers for medal winners.
Note these are sports which not many in India follow. These sportspersons don’t even remotely face the kind of pressure our cricketers face, day in day out. When these sportspersons fail, they aren’t criticized long; but if they shine, they become stars of a massive nation. The upside very high, the downside, not so low. Isn’t that motivation enough?
Mental or Fundamental?
When an athlete (and I wont get into naming and personal shaming) is ranked in top six of the world in successive Olympics, you expect the athlete to put up some fight at the grand stage. Yet when she crashes out at qualification stage at London 2012 and is worst of our players (in that discipline) at Rio – pulls down the team in Quarter Finals team event, you wonder if it’s more mental or fundamental. Later she went on to tamely lose in individual event at Quarter Finals stage too.
When an athlete is World ranked No.1 & 4, in two events in his discipline, and yet doesn’t even finish in top ten of both events there is reason to worry. When a player is ranked no. 5 and gets knocked out in first round to world number 61 tamely, questions will be asked. When a fighter is ranked third best in the world and loses 0-3 in first round then its a problem. This is a stage for which they all have been dreaming, persevering and fighting it out for years. A tough never say die fight and performance worthy of their rankings was what was expected.
When hockey team finishes in Quarters (last 8), they have at least played as per their rankings (Currently no.5, although were No. 7 two months ago). But we will come to hockey later.
The few bright sparks
There are some who have out punched above their weight. Notably some veteran war horses – Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna have played their last Olympics, had combined rank of 11th in the mixed doubles event, hardly have played together and don’t have much mixed doubles pedigree. Yet they finished in semi-finals and gave their best.
Abhinav Bindra lost gallantly fighting tooth and nail, agonizingly coming close to winning a medal. He has now retired from the sport and India will forever be thankful to him.
Tripura girl Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian to make to finals of Gymnastics individual vault finals in her debut Olympics, finally finishing a heart breaking fourth. She scripted history by being the country’s first woman gymnast to qualify and managed to perform her much-appreciated ‘Produnova’ vault cleanly.
Bombayla Devi Laishram, ranked 69th in the world reached the Round of 16 (pre-quarters) in individual event and was superb in the quarterfinals of team event. She managed to out perform and over achieve – something which the big stage is expectedly to bring out from the best athletes. Her co-archer Atanu Das, ranked 22 in the world, got an impressive 5th place in the ranking event and only lost out at the Round of 16 stage. That’s a massive improvement over his ranking and displays ability to stretch own potential to the limit.
Indian shuttlers PV Sindhu (ranked no.10) and Kidambi Srikanth (ranked no.11), as I write, have both made it to Round of 16. They are delivered at par with their rankings and we can only look forward to cheer them with full gusto.
If there was one team event, many in India were following closely, it was Hockey. After a fabulous showing in Champions Trophy, two months ago, where they took the finals to penalty strokes, much was expected.
Instead what one saw was a familiar story repeated. In most of India’s games, they let in key goals in last quarter of the game. It left them precariously placed at fourth in Group B and needing a win against wooden spoon Canada. Every team had spanked Canada left-right-centre till then – 20 goals scored against in 4 games.
But India managed a tame draw – again a goal granted in last quarter. That draw cost India a third place and a less menacing quarter-final opponent, Spain. Spain lost their quarters easily to Argentina, whom India had comfortably beaten in group stages. That Canada draw made India face the best team in the event, Belgium, who had scored 21 goals and let in just 5 group stage goals (5 games). Expectedly, Belgium thrashed India 3-1 out of Olympics.
The turning point of our campaign – a meek draw against the worst team!
Of all the teams that made to Quarter finals, India scored the least goals. Their 9 goals in 5 group games was a poor return when Spain & Australia had pumped in 13 goals. More was expected from the world number 5 team, in a sport they were reviving fast.
All the best, We are very much with you.
We hope the athletes do some introspection and only come out stronger from here on. Media debates, Narendra Modi government bashing and fault-finding may last a week, but the bigger picture must not be missed.
India’s Olympic medalists of this century are big stars. One of them is a I&B minister for the current goverment – Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Boxer Vijender Singh did a Bollywood film and has gone professional with his sport notching up a 7-0 impressive knock out career wins. Mary Kom had a Bollywood movie made on her life. Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar have featured in many television shows. Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal are massive superstars. The list is never-ending. The motivation is never ending. The desire, determination and perseverance to be the best should be never ending too.
All the best, We are very much with you.