Sporting performances at the Olympics reflect the agony and ecstasy of life, you win some and you lose some. It’s also about raising your standard to get a chance to compete with the best the world has to offer. Competing at the Olympic level does not come because an athlete happens to be number one in his or her country, but is based on the athlete meeting the minimum Olympic standard criteria during the qualification trials. And this, by no means, is an easy task.
Olympics sports is about focused training to raise one’s personal bar of speed, strength, stamina, endurance, physical fitness, and most of all mental strength, to withstand the pressure when it matters most. An athlete trains for years for that one shot at glory, a medal, that reflects the zenith of an athlete’s sporting ambition.
A medal for one’s country goes way beyond personal achievement as it represents national glory and pride. An Olympian is always an ambassador of sports for his or her country and so the emotions involved are not just that of the athlete, but that of millions citizens he or she represents.
So when an athlete loses his quest for a medal, it is agony for both the athlete and his fellow countrymen. In many cases, this results in severe backlash of criticism, often bordering on hate, that an athlete has to face.
India too, has had its share of failures through respective Olympics, where athletes who were expected to bring a medal failed and have had to face a hostile nation back home. And that’s a tragedy.
There are two sides to this. For many, just participating in the Olympic games is good enough while for many others, reaching the quarter-finals or semi-finals is proof enough of sporting achievement, and yet, there are those who won’t settle for anything less than a gold.
In a country of 1.3 billion persons, we have a mix of the first two mostly, with very few who believe that we must settle for nothing less than the gold medal.
But winning a medal is not about patriotic sentiment at the time of games, but a result of focused planning, detailed preparation, progressive performance build-up, adequate international completion exposure and a burning desire to win at all costs. All stakeholders and not just the athletes, must be committed to Olympic level excellence otherwise medals will remain the exception rather than the rule.
So what happened in Rio?
India’s best chance for medals were from Shooting and Archery, followed by individual medal hopes in Wrestling and Tennis. Let’s take shooting. Shooters like Gagan Narang, Abhinav Bindra, Jitu Rai, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Heena Sidhu, Apurvi Chandela had all been shooting well at various tournaments, including the World Championships, and were expected to remain consistent at Rio as well. That obviously didn’t happen.
We can’t blame it on poor equipment, nor coaches, nor training, nor diet, and they all reached Rio well in time to acclimatize themselves to local conditions. So the only real reason for failure can be attributed to Olympic ‘meltdown’. In other words, high public expectation for a medal and Olympic level pressure weighed over their performance.
Archery is a similar story. The trio of Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and Laxmirani Majhi had all been doing well at the word level. In fact, just before the Olympics, Deepika Kumari had equalled the word record in Recurve category, while the team had picked up a Silver at the World Championship in Copenhagen in August 2015.
So why did they miss a medal in Rio? Both in team as well as individual categories, they simply failed to live up to their own levels. Here again, no excuses on equipment, weather, coaches and the like. It was just nerves and the high expectation to perform from the media and public back home that took its toll.
Other tournaments including World Championships does not get the attention or media coverage that Olympics get and therefore, they performed well there.
In Tennis, the men’s doubles along with Mixed Doubles provided India’s best shot at a medal with the old workhorse, Leander Paes teaming up with Rohan Bopanna in Men’s and Sania Mirza playing with Bopanna in Mixed Doubles.
But India lost the medal in men’s doubles even before the Olympics started, when Bopanna publicly expressed his desire of not playing with Leander Paes. The nation lost its medal to ‘ego’ rather than any real competition, for both could have definitely been in the medal race. Sania and Bopanna simply lost to a better pair on the day.
Boxing was supposed to produce at least a couple of Bronze medals in Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan, but they all flattered to deceive. In the 64 Kg category, Manoj Kumar was up against a younger Uzbek fighter, but Manoj Kumar had a reach advantage. But strangely, Manoj did not use his jabs to either score points or keep his opponent at bay. He also lacked technique in footwork which gave the Uzbek fighter an edge.
It’s not that the fighters did not give it their best, but their best was just not good enough. All three were found wanting in technique, speed and footwork. India needs to raise the bar on training rather than the hype up the players before a tournament.
Wrestling had its own saga of controversy between Narsingh Yadav and Sushil Kumar, on who would make it to the Olympics. What followed was ugly and must never happen again. But Yogeshwar Dutt was both fit and raring to go and the hype around him placed him as a serious Gold medal hope. Well, he made an exit in the first round itself, being simply outmaneuvered by a wily Mongolian wrestler. So much for the medal hope. Here again, it’s not that Yogeshwar Dutt did not stand a serious chance but we once again failed when it mattered the most.
Main causes of failure
The government needs to review how sports is administered in the country and must substantially improve its investment in building a suitable infrastructure for each sport. The main reasons for our poor performance at the Olympic level are:
- Lack of sporting culture and sports administration to identify and nurture young talent with an eye on producing Olympic champions
- Poor employment opportunities for sportspersons who do not make it to the top
- Very poor sporting infrastructure, which is far below Olympic standard and what is available is far less to justify a sporting culture across the country
- Poor quality of sports administrators
- Lack of dedicated coaches with experience of training methods at the international level
- Lack of adequate funding to support world-class facilities, provide proper diet and training equipment
- Lack of qualified sports medicine doctors, physiotherapists and sports psychologists
- Lack of international sports exposure at a young level.
The way to realizing the Olympic dream
Drastic and immediate action is needed by the government if we have to produce medals with confidence at Tokyo 2020. PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have certainly made India proud, simply because they didn’t feel pressure to win an Olympic medal; so has underdog Dipa Karmakar, who is the first Indian female artistic gymnast ever to take part and compete in an Olympic game. She was not able to produce a bronze medal, but gave India a giant leap at the Summer games.
We need to plan our path to success and for this all stakeholders need to come together and address the shortcomings as mentioned above. Will the government rise up to the occasion?
List of Participating Indian Athletes for Rio Paralympics 2016
Why the performance of India is so poor in Olympics?
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, Jitu Rai
What India can learn from Dipa Karmakar
Biography of Devendra Jhajharia
Biography of P.V. Sindhu
Biography of Sakshi Malik