London Olympics: India wins more medals than Beijing 2008

first_imgRINGSIDE VIEWSome setbacks, some triumphs at London Walk the TalkBefore the Olympics, K.T. Irfan, India’s 20-km walker, had to ask Malayalam star Mohanlal to buy him a pair of shoes for the event.Now that he’s finished 10th in a field of 50, he’s become a star. Kerala Sports Minister K.B.,RINGSIDE VIEWSome setbacks, some triumphs at LondonWalk the TalkBefore the Olympics, K.T. Irfan, India’s 20-km walker, had to ask Malayalam star Mohanlal to buy him a pair of shoes for the event.Now that he’s finished 10th in a field of 50, he’s become a star. Kerala Sports Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar met Irfan in London and appears to have agreed to fund his training expenses from now on. But will he walk the talk?No Excess Baggage A group of officials from the Athletics Federation of India reached London but could not enter the Olympic Stadium. They had to watch the games on LED screens in an open area.”Please tell us what happened to (discus thrower) Krishna Poonia,” said one official. Perhaps they ought to have stayed on in India.Bouts of Joy An Olympic medal has changed everything for boxer M.C. Mary Kom.The bronze medallist’s popularity is at an all-time high in London, with journalists at the main press centre,Excel Arena and even in TV commentary booths raving about her performance.End of the Road Tennis has been a huge letdown for India at the Olympics, considering Leander Paes got the nation its first ever singles medal in 1996 at Atlanta. Some retirements are likely. Mahesh Bhupathi will probably be the first to go. But where is the next generation? By S. KannanIn Bhiwani Junction, a lively account of India’s boxing revolution, Vijender Singh talked about his first reactions being at the Olympic Games in Athens, aged 17. “Yeh hota hai world ka sports… main dang reh gaya (So, this is what global sport is about. I was stunned).”In this athletic panorama, unmatched in scale and significance, both dazzling and daunting, where does India stand? How did we do in London 2012?advertisementComparing India’s medals tally to those stacked above us is neither conclusion or consolation. Comparing India’s performance to Games gone by offers a clue but only if studied with dispassionate assessment.The biggest bonus from London 2012 is that for the first time, India’s challenge extended across several disciplines whose athletes travel with optimism as opposed to the cumbersome baggage of hockey and tennis.London was the first time that Indians had qualified well in time and in large numbers-11 shooters, eight boxers, five weightlifters to name just a random lot of competitors-with reasonable financial support and expertise working for them. India had to win more medals than Beijing 2008. This time instead of wailing over bad luck, vegetarianism and unfortunate genes, India had maths on its side. In Rio 2016, the more the contenders, the more the medals. It’s that simple.If every Games must be treated like a staging post to understand where our sport stands, London is proof that a slow tectonic shift has taken place in India’s Olympic sport.In Sydney 2000, medal prospects had largely been centred around hockey, tennis and women’s weightlifting, with Pullela Gopichand-yes, him, Saina Nehwal’s sagely guru-offering an outside chance at the badminton event. The surprise: Boxer Gurcharan Singh coming within 14 seconds of a semi-final spot, beaten on countback, left weeping on the ring.In Athens 2004, India’s hopes floated around hockey, tennis (again), athletics through long jumper Anju Bobby George and shooting. Three Indian shooters made the finals, Rajyavardhan Rathore won the country’s first silver. The first-mover advantage enjoyed by women’s weightlifting had by then been politicked and doped itself out of contention. The surprise: Archer Satyadev Prasad going toe to toe in the quarter-final against the world No.1, defeated by a single arrow.Saina NehwalIn Beijing 2008, the hockey team didn’t qualify and tennis moved offcentre. The contenders now came from shooting, boxing and badminton. Abhinav Bindra’s gold broke a glass ceiling, Vijender Singh’s bronze opened boxing’s floodgates. The surprise in Beijing came from Sushil Kumar’s repechage wrestling bronze. Nehwal hurt so badly after her quarter-final defeat that she swore to return to the Olympics, a better, stronger, tougher competitor. When she won her quarterfinal against Tine Baun in London, no wonder she tossed aside her racket and just pounded the court with her bare hands.Going into the 2012 Games, along with Nehwal, the shooters, boxers and wrestlers had given themselves the best chance. Once again, three shooters made the final-in a dream Games it would have been five-but two won medals. Of eight boxers, the first to make the medal rounds was its lone woman contestant, M.C. Mary Kom, the gumshield-mom. The performance of six of the seven men must sting or boxing will slide.advertisementThe surprises from London come from race walker K.T. Irfan who broke the national record in the 20km walk, shooter Joydeep Karmakar who finished fourth, badminton braveheart Parupalli Kashyap and discus thrower Vikas Gowda, the first Indian man in an Olympic athletics final after Sriram Singh in 1976 and the first in a men’s field event after Henry Rebello in the 1948 triple jump.Mary KomThe sports where the noise ended up louder than the news were hockey, tennis and archery. The archers say they need a mental trainer, hockey will hold on if its young players can find something to fight for in the World Series Hockey and tennis must first rid itself of the Paes-Bhupathi saga that now looms like those Tom and Jerry cartoon shadows.It is the governors of these sports who must now play a role or their sport will slide out of Olympic significance in India. Of the three, archery must have the most agile response to underachievement, because it stands to lose the most. Hockey will lean on history and tennis will always have its niche following.Until now, India’s genuine athletic performers, particularly those without resources, had zero safety nets. Gursharan abandoned the Army for a professional career in the US, Prasad was quickly forgotten. London has shown Indian Olympic sport that the only way to succeed is to change its old-style game.Pistol shooter Vijay Kumar had been shooting only for nine years before he won silver in his sport’s biggest event. It was a medal won through order and method. Neglect that by displacing genuine athletic achievement from the top of the food chain and a sport only reduces its Olympic relevance in India. In real terms, say, if the bosses in Indian archery do not make winning a medal in Rio their only priority, everyone might as well just toss aside their bows and arrows. As Vijender Singh said, yeh hota hai world ka sports.-The author is senior editor at ESPN cricinfo.last_img