Tokyo 2020: The Winning Streak

Tokyo 2020: The Winning Streak

Only the strongest shoulders can carry the hopes of a nation.
-Katie Taylor

On 7th August, 2021, India witnessed a 23-year-old boy achieving a milestone and leaving behind a trail that millions would emulate. Fingers crossed, my face beaded with sweat, I was all keyed-up; this was the first javelin match that I had been hooked on since time immemorial. Yes, the Indian spearhead Neeraj Chopra was just minutes away from creating history. The nation was anxiously waiting for the Haryana boy who had already proved his mettle in the qualifiers. And it was a gold. A country of over a billion had to wait for 13 years for another individual gold medal at the Olympics! With the national anthem playing at the revered field of Tokyo, our eyes brimmed with tears of pride, satisfaction, triumph, along with a bazillion other unequivocally common feelings among every Indian. When the cameraman zoomed into the face of the shining star, his face smothered in grime and sweat, and instead of tears, his eyes were only emanating- “I didn’t let my country down.”

The last medal clenched hence marked the culmination of India’s Olympic safari- one that would go down in history for a myriad of firsts and would inspire a generation. From sending a lone wolf in the Paris Olympics Pre-Independence to sending 86 athletes post-Independence in the London Olympics and 127 in the Tokyo Olympics. This Olympics had a special significance in the Indian sporting arena for sending the largest contingent of players representing the country and the colossal number of medals won.

The winning streak for the Olympics was instituted when this year Mirabai Chanu won India’s first-ever Olympic silver in weightlifting. Her win not only opened the country’s tally at the tournament but also satiated India’s thirst of 21 years for a pedestal finish in the weightlifting category. Chanu’s win in the 49kg category was a matter of jubilation and ecstasy, with the nation lauding the athlete for her performance. India also owes a lot to bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain who emerged as a household name for boxing after Mary Kom. Sandwiched between the world record holder Chanu’s cosmic story of redemption and Lovelina’s ‘once in a generation talent,’ their domineering and epoch-making win were crowning moments of yearning, anguish, heartbreak, nostalgia, acclamation. In a country where girls are forced to drop out of school, let alone play, their medal has paved the way for multitudinous young girls to think big, dream big, and believe big.

Abhinav Bindra once said: “For an athlete, the Olympics is every day. A medal at Games is not a by-product of having an athlete and giving them the facilities. It’s a result of teaching a process where winning is everything. A process where skills are perfected and flaws are ironed out.” Giving life to these words was the victory of the two Indian wrestlers Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia, who bagged silver and bronze respectively. Their incessant grit and the summation of their efforts day in and day out made them sparkle in the arena. On the one hand, Ravi Dahiya became the second wrestler to win silver after Sushil Kumar, while Bajrang Punia became the sixth ever Indian wrestler to win an Olympic medal in a cutthroat competition against Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan.

India’s finest shuttler PV Sindhu won bronze after beating China’s He Bing Jiao, with which she became the first Indian woman to win two consequent Olympic medals. Her magnanimous triumph paved the recourse for youngsters who dream of becoming the next P.V. Sindhu, infusing determination and perseverance. She established an emblem of success in women’s larger story of striving and achieving in Indian sports. Although there weren’t many spectators in Tokyo cheering for a splendiferous Olympian like her, however, billions of hearts from India were on their toes praying for Sindhu’s victory. Reigning badminton champion left no stones unturned to bring glory to the nation. Treading on the thin ice, taking excruciating pain for the nation’s pride, she truly is the champion of champions.

Aditi Ashok may have missed a medal in Tokyo narrowly as she finished 4th in the Olympic Games golf competition. Still, her consistent performance at the quadrennial games has competently put golf on India’s map. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even lauded the 23-year-old Bengaluru star for her exuberant performance while elaborating that she may have narrowly missed out on a medal in the Tokyo Olympics but has gone farther than any Indian and blazed a trail. Aditi will indisputably prove to be the epitome of travail and perseverance for every Indian teenager.

The daughter of Punjab, Kamalpreet Kaur, had primarily decided to pursue her dreams as a sportsperson because she wasn’t getting good academic grades. What started as a deviation from studies made her shine like a queen. Earlier this year, Kamalpreet secured her ticket to the Tokyo Olympics with her 63.5 m Olympic qualification mark at the Athletics Federation Cup. She even outdid the national record with a throw of 65.06m, becoming the only Indian athlete to throw past the 65m marks, not once but twice. Though she ended up coming sixth, her breath-taking fight for the podium finish has been memorialized in India’s sports history.

This Olympics saw another history being penned, with both the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams qualifying for the semi-finals. Their expedition in itself marked the revival of the Indian hockey team- the one who had ruled the world of hockey for several years. Having defeated higher-ranked opponents and fierce opponents on various occasions, the teams showcased their prowess, competency, stoicism, and top-notch performance.

The ardour and the thirst to win for one’s own country have their place in sport, but down the memory lane, every team is judged by its trophy cabinet. What had become a forgotten sport and had been pushed to the foreground astounded everyone with this comeback. With the Men’s hockey team winning a bronze medal after 41 long years, the scars of the past few decades are ebbing away.

The Indian women’s hockey team did narrowly miss a bronze medal. However, their exemplary performance compelled even the most persistent critics to bow down and applaud throughout the match. Not always does a game have both winners and losers. With the implementation of such calibre, the women’s hockey team is already a winner for all of us. After all, not every time does it take a medal to win the hearts of a nation of 1.3 billion people. Though this was only the third time in the history of the Games that the Indian women’s hockey team was making an appearance, they triumphantly made it through to the semi-finals for the first time.

Cricket has a huge fan base and media hype in India, leaving little room for other sports. Proclaimed as India’s religion in sports, attention and investments flow perennially into it. Hockey, archery, football, and the rest have a comparatively smaller audience, and athletic events like javelin and discus were unheard of before India’s explicable performance. Which in turn pushes others to the foreground with very few opportunities at theirs. Not many companies invest in them, leaving limited scope and resources for the players to improve their game. Ramji Srinivasan, a close associate of the Indian cricket team had said, “BCCI has been tremendous; if you want something, immediately it gets done. If I want some supplements or some fitness items, immediately it is sanctioned. I don’t have to go through red tape”.

The above scenario does give a glimpse of a predicament of sports and its infrastructure in India, and the quandary our Olympians put themselves. While we as a nation applaud them for their performance, the synchronized efforts of hundreds of people made this dream transform into reality. The players of all teams had to make monumental sacrifices for this victory. After all, staying away from family for a year when the world is witnessing a pandemic is no easy task.

Amid all this, the Indian team in particular, and the nation in general, owes a lot to Naveen Pattnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, who supported the team financially. After the exit in 2018, the Odisha government took over the reins of sponsorship of both the junior and senior hockey teams. Signing a 5-year sponsorship deal of around a Rs 150 crore deal with Hockey India, for the first time, a state government had decided to sponsor a national team. In 2018, in collaboration with the Tata group, the state government set up the Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High-Performance Centre (HPC) at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Opened with a vision to groom the amateur sporting talent in hockey and produce world-class sportspersons, India awaits many more champions from this center.

At every Olympic Games, our arch rivals, China and the USA, would walk away with scores of gold medals. For fans of the Olympics in India, the event, which was previously a pessimistic exercise, made millions of Indians skip heartbeats with the neck-to-neck fight our players put in. The seven medals procured by our players might look fleck-like in front of the 113 medals of the USA and 88 medals of China, but the future indeed looks promising. With the government augmenting the funds allotted to Khelo India, SAI and NSF, there is hope for a new India where sports and education are at par, and we win laurels in proportion to our population.

-Ritika

 

Picture Credits: khelonow.com

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