Below top standards in many disciplines, the Commonwealth Games is not the best yardstick to judge standing at the world level. The participation of around 70 teams makes it the biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics, but barring athletics, swimming, cycling, hockey and a few others, competition in several arenas is not as tough as even the Asian Games. Despite that, India’s performance in Gold Coast is creditable broadly because of two reasons. Pushing gold medals up from 15 in 2014 to 26 and finishing third ahead of countries like New Zealand, Canada, South Africa is one. And the emergence of a bunch of youngsters is the more significant other.
Sport thrives on fresh talent. There come superstars who reign longer, but by and large, it is a process of continuous influx based on the principle of survival of the fittest. Making the Indian campaign heartening were champions younger than most of their counterparts. Shooters Anish Bhanwala and Manu Bhaker are 15 and 16; Mehuli Ghosh, who lost a tie-breaker for gold, is 17. Javelin star Neeraj Chopra matched Olympic medal standards at 20. Add Manika Batra, 22, beating the World No. 4 twice on her way to two table tennis gold medals and this lot looks promising. In the past India produced young wonders like Abhinav Bindra or P V Sindhu. But this time, the numbers are bigger. Whether they can get close to or better these two remains to be seen.
Going by reports from the Games, this batch is free from the baggage of the previous generation. They are no sob stories. Infrastructure, exposure and incentives for athletes in India have improved. The best in various disciplines train and compete abroad. There is a feeling that they are unafraid of the world and focussed on excellence. With the Centre having launched a programme to multiply medals at the 2020 Olympics after a disappointing run in 2016, this is a good start. The next chance to gauge distance from the target comes at the Asian Games in August.