Tokyo Olympics 2020 just concluded. Delayed by a year from 2020 to 2021 due to the pandemic, stymied by the constraint of not having any audiences, the games went very well. Overall, US won the highest number of medals, followed by China. India had the best Olympic performance by winning seven medals including one gold. “Gold tho gold hi hota hai, chhora laave ya chhori laave (gold medal is gold medal whether a boy brings it or a girl brings it” said Aamir Khan playing the role of the famed Phogat father in the Bollywood movie “Dangal”. The chhoris and the chhoras of India did exceedingly well to come home with a bag of medals. Here are my impressions of the games.
Neeraj Chopra made history by winning a gold medal in Javelin throw. India’s first medal in athletics. And only the second individual gold medal after Abhinav Bindra in shooting in Beijing in 2008. More fittingly, he dedicated his medal to Milkha Singh, the greatest athlete India has ever produced. And who failed to win an Olympic medal despite all the world records he held.
Indian men’s hockey team winning bronze is another feather in the cap. It came after about fifty years. I don’t consider the 1980 Moscow gold, as all the western countries boycotted the Olympics due to Russian invasion of Afghanistan. I have been very passionate about hockey since childhood. India dominated the game till the 1970s when the game changed from grass to astroturf giving massive advantages to the western countries. Twenty five years ago, I sat in the Atlanta Olympics seeing the gold medal and the third place hockey matches. Of course, India did not figure in the last four. What crossed my mind was will India ever reach the last four in my lifetime. Well, it happened, and a resulting bronze medal. The chhoris did a lot well by reaching the last four but missing the bronze by a whisker.
India’s greatness in hockey was attributable to one all time great – Major Dhyan Chand. He was a wizard comparable to Pele in soccer or Don Bradman in cricket. PM Modi did the right thing by renaming the Rajiv Gandhi Khel ratna award, the highest sports award in the country, as Dhyan Chand khel ratna award. This is another step towards depoliticising awards after the Padma awards have been moved towards public nomination and voting.
Sindhu won a bronze, her second medal in Badminton after a silver in Rio in 2016. Mirabai Chanu a silver in weight lifting. Ravi Dahiya a silver in wrestling. Bajrang Punia bronze in wrestling. Lovelina Boroghain a bronze in boxing. Now athletes are coming from different corners of the country, even from poor families and not so well connected either. This itself is a great victory for Indian sports. It is very similar to US Olympians – the swimmers, gymnasts, and athletes. Granted US has a lot better facilities. There are gymnasiums, swimming pools and athletics tracks in most of the high schools. But the Olympians are vastly unknown. They come to limelight every four years. They don’t make much money like basketball or the football stars who make millions.
In other impressions, Simone Biles, the all time great US gymnast, was a figure of grace while pulling out due to mental pressure. Eventually, she did win a medal. Sunisa Lee won a gold in individual all round gymnastic events filling in for Biles. Fiji won the gold medal in Rugby. Russia was banned from the Olympic games due to doping. Due to some last minute confusion or a compromise, Russian teams were allowed to participate as ROC (Republic Olympic Committee), not under a national flag. I see Russia is way down in the medal count, presumably due to non use of dope ! Any indictment again would jeopardize their future further.
I read an article in the New York Times recently about why India did not win a gold medal in lot of Olympics. Government apathy, lack of funding, corruption were the hallmarks of lacklustre performances in the past. The article points out rightly that things are changing now. More government funding, private sponsorships, more talent scouting and encouragement are changing things around. Rightly so, there is a second article talking about Neeraj’s performance and what it bodes for the future. The establishment of the leagues like Hockey league, soccer league, kabbadi league, on the lines of IPL in cricket, are helping the cause. Odisha’s CM Naveen Patnaik has been a keen supporter of Indian hockey. Besides, PM Modi’s active encouragement, his planning for the future are seeing the light of the day.
The next Olympics is three years away in 2024 in Paris, followed by 2028 in LA and recently the 2032 Olympics have been awarded to the lone contestant Brisbane, Australia. Increasingly, the Olympics are becoming a losing proposition. Costing lots of money and not enough revenue to make a good business case. With Tokyo losing all spectator revenue, it is more in debt. Hope the games continue with stronger sponsorships and maybe India gets to host one of the games in the future !
Granted India’s tortoise like climb in Olympics performance against China’s hare like meteoric rise. I would prefer this tortoise race as long as there is no slipping back. Consolidating whatever has been achieved and building on top towards greater glory should be the goal. With full freedom and opportunities to work on.
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