Cover Story : Learnings from Rio
Out of 119- strong contingent at Rio Olympics 2016, India managed to get a silver and a bronze. This poor performance certainly has many more messages besides the widely accepted one, ‘Girls saved India’s pride’
Bharatiya athletes tried their best in Rio de Janeiro Olympics despite various difficulties but were unable to succeed against the superb preparedness of the players of other countries, especially of the ten most victorious countries which have claimed over 55 per cent of all the medals.
Great Britain moved from No 36 in Atlanta Olympics to No 2 in Rio
“The secret of our success is the work put into training schedules, diet,
medical support and expert advice over the four years since London 2012 Olympics. We have started
preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”, said British Olympic
official after the conclusion of the Rio 2016 Olympic games in which Britain has done spectacularly well. But it is not the whole truth. Lottery funding, too, has played a significant role in Britain’s success in Rio.
Great Britain moved from 36th position in Atlanta Olympics to No 2 in Rio Olympics. Here are reasons behind Great Britain Success at Rio :
- National Lottery funding is the main reason behind medal rise in Britain. In 1996, Great Britain won 15 medals, including just one gold. Team Great Britain was 36th in the medal tally of that year. The following year, the National Lottery started funding athletes so they could train with full concentration, not worrying about any financial constraints. And the miracle happened. By 2004, the medal tally had gone up to 30, doubling again at London 2012 Olympics to 65. This year, it is 67 medals.
- The athletes were placed right next to their venues — so that they do not spend more than a 10-minute travel to the field of play.
- Andy Murray and Justic Rose moved into the Olympic Village in Rio just to be with team-mates.
- Britain has already started preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. A team of British experts has visited Tokyo Olympic venue and has held
discussions with Janapese officials at Rio so that the British contingent finds proper facilities four years down the line.
- Support staff of 900, which travelled to Brazil with the 366 athletes
- Britian is funding around 1,400 athletes for 2020. Talent programmes, including “Sporting Giants”, launched by Sir Steve Redgrave in February 2007, have resulted in discovering athletes
- The performance of each Olympic participant is carefully reviewed every time. As a result of such exercise, players receive a major boost.
Bharat has won two medals only: PV Sindhu’s silver in badminton and Sakshi Malik’s bronze in women’s wrestling. Dipa Karmakar’s bronze was missed just by a whisker. Otherwise, the overall performance of Bharat’s contingent, the largest sent so far, has been disappointing. Especially afer Bharat had won six medals in the 2012 London Olympics, its best-ever performance.
“India’s performance at Rio was disappointing. However, authorities should analyse the causes professionally and avoid any knee-jerk reaction. A cool analysis will reveal the reasons and also how closely we missed some medals. I am certain that India can win 8-10 medals in Tokyo provided—selection, training and funding begins right away —Gurbir Singh, Olympian and Arjuna Awardee”
The Rio Olympics has once again highlighted the neglect of our players by the authorities. Some players said in exasperation that their struggles on field were less gruesome as compared to what they faced off the Olympic arena.
Lot was expected from the Hockey team but we have not managed to reach into the semi-finals. We lacked killer instincts in the players. There is a lack of motivation. We need to focus on support staff who can work well on mental condition of players. Time has come to adopt uniform coaching structure —Anupam Ghulati, Hockey Expert and Commentator
A Land of Medals
How can a tiny country Jamaica win so many golds?
Jamaica’s global dominance in running started to emerge over half a century ago. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, in which Bharatiya wrestler Khashaba Jadhav won a bronze, Jamaica was ranked 13th by the International Olympic Committee. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jamaica was first in sprints. The amazed world was watching a miracle called Usain Bolt, who won three gold medals.
Harward Professor Orlandao Peterson explains the secrets of how Jamaicans managed to do it in more elaborate terms. He says it is not because of genetics, as some experts claim. The claim that genetics are responsible for Jamaica’s glory can’t explain why Jamaicans outperform other Blacks in the American
continent. In this context, he quotes Brazil, which has 36 times as much Black population as of Jamaica.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Peterson has a very different answer: Champs. Officially called the
Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association Boys and Girls Athletics Championship, Champs is an annual competition attended by thousands of fans in Jamaica, which takes pride in the fact that it is the only country where a track and field competition is the most popular sporting event.
But the competition is just one part of an astounding success story. To unravel it, Peterson explains that part of the answer is institutional. The British, who ruled the
country, first introduced organised and informal athletics and interschool competitions in Jamaica and other colonies in the late 19th century.
Jamaica quickly stood out from other Caribbean islands in extending these competitions from elite White schools to those of the non-White classes. Soon, several outstanding athletes emerged as role models,
mentors and promoters of the sport. In the 50s, track and field was most popular in Jamaica. The top runners who had won medals at Helsinki had become national heroes.
The efforts to promote running succeeded because of a large number of healthy children and young people. This success was attributed by some to Jamaica’s mountainous terrain but Peterson says it was due to a public health campaign, spearheaded in the 1920s partly by specialists from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The programme, as Peterson says, began in a small town called May Pen, where he grew up. In the town emphasis was given on hygiene, clean water and control of open defecation and mosquito breeding. Primary school teachers were recruited in the public health campaign. Running was the cheapest sport and was adopted as part of this movement. Usain Bolt received his initial childhood training at a remote rural school.
Historical demographer James Riley has described the outcome as “the Jamaican Paradox.” It is one of the rare instances of a poor country with the life expectancy of an advanced society, a health transition that began in the 1920s and improved at one of the fastest paces on record, from 36 years at birth in 1920 to 70 by 1977. It’s no accident that the oldest individual medal winner in Olympic track history is a Jamaican woman, Merlene Ottey, who was still sprinting in international meets at age 52.
Another factor in this Jamaican unbelievable success story is the nation’s combative individualism. Viewed negatively, it is the country’s chronic violence, according to Peterson. But, as he says, the bright side is its people’s extreme self-reliance. Coupled with an effective health policy, the life-expectancy paradox is how Riley explains it. But in running, performance is entirely up to the athlete. One Olympic medal winner advised young athletes: “One thing we go out there for, and that’s to win………To dominate. To crush them!”
The world tasted Jamaica’s this killer instinct in Beijing, where Bolt, while winning the 100 meters in record time, slowed down, thumped his chest and spread his arms in a taunting, triumphant gesture. “We are a confident people,” he later told the BBC.
Nearly 20 years ago, Jamaicans started establishing for-profit track and field clubs, which have brought American-style sports entrepreneurship to the island. Now nearly all the island’s major track stars are being trained locally, greatly reducing the talent drain and shifting the focus to adult runners, lengthening their careers and, with their greater local visibility and wealth, intensifying the island’s passion for the sport.
A former professional athlete, Wilton Peart, believes in the power of training on grass.
It is a challenge even to qualify for the Olympics. Many achieved that distinction but were almost forgotten afterwards by the officials. In terms of treatment, respect, and facilities, they were the most ignored lot. On the other hand, many official delegates flew in business class to the Olympics while the athletes themselves had to endure untold hardships. Sprinter Dutee Chand had to undertake a 36-hour flight in the economy class whereas on the same plane, the managers and delegates were travelling in business class.
“A player wants mental peace and stress free environment to give 100 per cent. Narsingh episode affected the whole wrestling team. The confidence of players was low and we saw it during matches of Yogeshwar and Babita. Athletes need more suitable and positive conditions for training. Time has come to give priority to female athletes instead of using them as substitutes —Jyoti, 75kg Freestyle Wrestler”
Chand reached Rio exhausted and failed to qualify for the 100-meter semi-finals. Dipa Karmakar is now showered with praise but only because she entered the women’s vault finals. What she had to face before, her feat is shameful for any sports-loving country.
Dipa’s physiotherapist wasn’t allowed by the authorities to accompany her when she left for Rio but the picture changed as soon as she entered the finals. Earlier, his presence was claimed to be “wasteful” by the Sports Authority of India (SAI). The same officials swung into frenzied action as soon as she qualified for the finals and her
physiotherapist was asked to fly to Brazil at the earliest.
Nothing surprising that the Bharatiya team’s chief medical officer appointed for the Rio Olympics wasn’t a specialist in sports medicine. He was a radiologist. This fact came to light only later. The most shocking incident took place on August 15, Bharat’s Independence Day. Everybody in the Olympic arena was excited and to match the occasion, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports had arranged a grand reception for the athletes. It was supposedly hosted by the Bhartiya embassy at the Olympian Reunion Centre. Many of the athletes decided to attend and had to skip dinner at the Games Village since they had to be at the Embassy on time. Expectedly, they were looking for a sumptuous Bharatiya fare. They were served cold drinks and a few peanuts. They could not lodge an official complaint since they felt it more important to uphold Bharat’s prestige than crib for dinner. So far, no regret has been expressed by Bharat’s external affairs ministry.
Now that the dust is settling down, Bharat should introspect candidly about its dismal performance and concentrate on developing a national sports culture to fare better in future. Parents and
children should be imbibed with the sentiment that nationalism is
synonymous with winning victories in sports. This can be done by investing for a better and larger sports infrastructrure at schools, especially those where a sports tradition already exists. Deshi sports, not just cricket, should be
popularised with the involvement of leaders, stars and corporates. We are a country with vast talent. A sense of
confidence needs to be instilled in our youngsters that we can perform in every world event, not just Olympics.
The experience in Britain has proved that large dose of funding is essential for sports promotion. So, let us not be coy about it. Experts feel that Bharat should take another cue from Britain and concentrate only on those games in which it has some potential. For instance, Britain has decided to reduce its attention from archery or badminton. Incidentally, Bharat has a rich tradition in both these arts. Our scriptures and mythological descriptions are full of trained wrestlers, archers and swordsmen. Swimming and cyling can be considered, too. Similarly, our Vanvasi children and youths can run so fast that they will be able to grab Olympic medals with due training and guidance. If our sportspersons can perform so well without any
institutional support, we can certianly look forward to a much better performance from them after adequate preparations.
How to achieve this?
If one reads about the importance given to sports in a tiny country like Jamaica, it will be obvious that most of Bharatiyas do not give any importance to sports. Our focus is on garnering more and more marks in academic examinations. Therefore, from very early age, our children are taught that sports is an activity for those who can’t excel in examinations. Hopefully, the picture is changing, but not rapidly enough. Moreover, there is a total lack of sports infrastructure in most schools, colleges and universities. The absence of expert coaches is another problem. These drawbacks can be overcome by improving the infrastructure, which should also pay attention to proper diet of the sportspersons.
(with inputs from Nishant Kr Azad)