Shape of Things to Come

A fear­less mother and a bad­minton cham­pion off­set In­dia’s hockey and tennis tragedies

India Today - - INSIDE -

A fear­less mother and a bad­minton cham­pion off­set In­dia’s hockey and tennis tragedies.

timism 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.

In 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.

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