Fifteen, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 ... No they are not random numbers that have raised curiosity among Indians at the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. They are numbers of hope and aspiration. Amidst the share of disappointments and controversies for India, one of the most heartening aspects has been the spectacular performance by its youngsters. Every multi-sport event throws up one or two prospects who brighten up India’s sporting future, but in Indonesia, they have emerged en masse.
One of India’s two gold medallists in shooting, Saurabh Chaudhary, is 16 and he’s not even the youngest medal winner. That honour goes to Shardul Vihan, a silver winner in men’s double trap—he is 15. Lakshay Sheoran, men’s trap silver medallist, is 19. One of India’s brightest stars on the track, Hima Das, is merely 18 and already going toe to toe with the best in the world. Javelin gold medallist Neeraj Chopra is 20 as is wrestling bronze-winner Divya Kakran. Shot-put gold winner Tajinder Singh Toor is a bit older at 23 as is men’s 400m silver medallist Muhammed Anas. And, because she has been around for so long, it is easy to forget that P V Sindhu is just 23.
The Asian Games has also proven to be a valuable learning experience for some. Pistol shooter Manu Bhaker (16) will look to emerge stronger from her disappointment as will Anish Bhanwala (15) and Elavenil Valarivan (19). The same applies for 19-year-old long jumper M Sreeshankar. Their performances at the Games augurs well for the nation.
The Olympics is just two years away and if the officials channelise their energy in the right direction, their performances will definitely improve. So instead of showering riches and distracting them from the ultimate goal, stakeholders must chalk out a plan to improve their performances. If they take the pains to nurture these precocious youngsters properly, India may well be staring at a bunch of medals in the Paris Olympics, six years from now.