After winning six medals at London Olympics 2012, the expectations from the Indian sports personalities at the Rio Olympics 2016 are high. Stars of all disciplines have solid chances of contributing to the medal tally
Improving on London Olympics 2012 best ever medal count, will the largest ever Indian contingent be able to touch double digit in Rio Olympics 2016? As the countdown for the greatest global sporting spectacle has started, this is the most obvious question touching millions of Indian hearts and minds. And this consistently asked question has a strong basis to it. Firstly, India is not only the second largest country in the world, but also, predominantly its population is young. Secondly, the large Indian Diaspora has excelled all around the globe in varied fields, proving the point that with congenial atmosphere and system, the country has abundance of talent. Sports cannot be viewed in isolation. Thirdly, the country today is counted as the fastest growing amongst the leading economies of the world. And there are ample studies which points to a direct relationship between economic prosperity and medal count prosperity upto a point. Lastly, the huge aspiration-al middle class wants to deservedly see their country at the summit of the global power. Excellence in sports is intrinsically linked with the national pride.
All these factors combined together have created an urge to break free from the dismal past. India stands really far behind in the total number of Olympic medals it has secured, which is twenty six (9 gold, 6 silver and 11 bronze medals), only four more than the personal medal count of Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of the world. The country has one of the least, if not the least per capita success in the Olympics—with one medal for roughly 38.3 crore people. The gap between aspiration and the ground reality is huge and perhaps, Rio 2016 will be a reality check on the direction the wind is blowing. Rio bound Indian athletes are aware of the expectations and the challenges which lies ahead. The athletes were inspired and fired up, with the Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi send-off gesture and interaction with them at the individual level. “For the first time ever there is a send off by the @PMOIndia @narendramodi for the Olympic Team. What a great gesture #Respect” tweeted Abhinav Bindra, India’s lone individual Olympic gold medalist till date. PV Sindu, found the interaction encouraging. “Meeting PM was motivating and encouraging, hope to bring 2-3 medals from Rio Olympics”— she said. Tweet posted by Manoj Kumar said: “Glad 2 meet our energetic #PM @narendramodi Ji in a pgm, Ur words gv us energy to bring laurel 4 the country in #Rio,” Within this overall surreal hope and desire and the realities on the ground, it’s most difficult exercise to hazard a guess on the number of medals Indian contingent will come back with. After all, in Olympics, you are competing with the best and winning and losing gets decided on your performance on the moment. But, with less than a month left, the most obvious question confronting billion hearts needs to be answered.
Shooting is the sports which gave India the first gold individual medal, 61 years after the Independence. If Abhinav Bindra broke this jinx in Beijing 2008, in Rio 2016, small and sturdy Naib Subedar Jitu Rai- can take this one step further. Apart from Jitu, we have serious contenders in Apurvi Chandela and experienced stalwarts in Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Heena Sidhu. As Darain Shahidi, sports presenter adds : “China’s Yang Haoran starts as strong favorites in 10 m air rifle, but for Abhinav Bindra it’s not about the Chinese but all about himself. Jitu, on the other hand has done everything to make himself favorite for the medal. He has won world cups, Asian Games gold, made the finals at the test events in Rio and has done high altitude training at Mhow”. After shooting, comes
badminton. Badminton coach Pulela Gopichand adds: “Seven Indian badminton players will be participating in the quadrennial event and this is the biggest ever badminton contingent from the country to have qualified for the Olympics. It’s a big achievement for us and the result of our consistent performances.” Saina verses China is again the buzzword here. Indian badminton queen was not in her elements in the beginning of the year, but things have changed with the Australian Open super series win. Raring to prove a point in her third Olympics, Saina is near injury free and has got the much needed
confidence ahead of the big event after beating her arch-rivals like Yihan Wang. On her day P V Sindhu can give the best a run for their money and Kidambi Srikanth- the man who has breached the Chinese wall, can throw in a pleasant surprise.
Indian archers will face their litmus test in Rio. More than their ability, their temperament will be closely watched. In Deepika and Laxmi Majhi, India have two archers who are capable of beating the world’s best on any given day. The only thing which they need to conquer is the demon within. “Leaving the pain London pain behind, our entire focus is on Rio now. In Rio Olympics, archery will be a night event played in the floodlights and normally, Indian archer’s gauze the direction of the winds from the flags. Our entire training focus currently is concentrated in this direction”- confides a senior coaching staff attached with the Indian archery team. In wrestling, Yogeshwar Dutt, like a true Yogi is focused on his job to win second consecutive Olympic medal for the country. The Haryana wrestler has shunned overtures for endorsements offers and has been at his best for sometimes now amidst all the hullabaloos over Sushil Kumar verses Narsingh Yadav stakes. Having earned his much deserved right to go to Rio, Narsingh Yadav has a major point to prove as well. Hockey used to be our pride and identity in Olympics and the path for resurrection could start from Rio. As Harendra Singh, coach of the junior hockey team says : ‘I think after the squad for 2000 Sydney Olympics, this is one of the best teams we have produced in terms of skill, execution, formation and fitness. They have never been dominated by any country. I think this team has a very fair chance of standing on the podium. In 2000, I feel that we failed strategically. But now, we have Roelant Oltmans. He’s a master tactician”. In Lawn tennis, it’s impossible to write off the pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Sports ministry officials in their last review meeting, looked at this figure around 10-14 medals. The projections are based looking at the athletes’ performance in the last 12 months. And, or this they are banking on the outside chances. As DG, SAI Injeti Srinivas said: “Initially, we were looking at just seven disciplines for medals, but with the country’s race walkers, discus thrower Vikas Gowda and 3,000 m steeplechase specialist Lalita Babar showing steady improvement in their performance, and golfer Anirban Lahiri joining in, we believe that they are capable of throwing in a surprise”.
In almost 60 days from now, we will get a concrete answer to this most raging question of the day. But the quest for excellence in Olympics sports should continue. In his research on
predicting Olympic medal count, the effect of economic development on Olympic performance Xun Bian lists the four important factors as, the influence of the population size, economic resources, political and economic structure and hosting advantages. The first two factors are strongly in our favour, the third factor is inconsequential for our thought process and the fourth could follow suit, if we show marked improvement in our performance. The country has taken a few decisive steps in the form of ‘Target Olympics Podium Scheme’ and esteemed Olympians Anju Boby George, Abhinav Bindra and Mary Kom being the member of the committee and its look east sports policy- by organising South Asian Games in Guwahati and nominating Mary Kom as Rajya Sabha Member. Before and after Rio,
sustained effort in this direction and direction of improvement in sports governance is needed for India to become an Olympic power. For instance, the support staff and officials touring with the contingent should comprise of members genuinely contributing to the team cause and just not filling up the numbers. In the long term—Indian Diaspora should be invited to set up the centers of excellence in the country and tie up with established sporting centers overseas in the sports in which their adopted countries excels in.
(The writer is a senior sports journalist)