Shape of Things to Come
A fearless mother and a badminton champion offset India’s hockey and tennis tragedies
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.