Whenever an Indian wins an Olympic medal, the unbridled celebration reflects our emotion. It also silently reveals the hunger in all of us for those elusive medals. So when an athlete wins two in as many Olympics, it’s natural to react in bewilderment and awe. P V Sindhu became just the second athlete in our country’s history to accomplish that feat when she won bronze in Tokyo on Sunday. She is the first woman to do so. For her, it’s a moment of purgation after an unremarkable 2020. It was dogged by losses on court and controversies off it. Sindhu’s prodigious talent is just one part of the story. There is her head that has the ability to exorcise any demons that try to tear her down. Her nonchalant demeanour is as deceptive as her drop shots.
The previous year had been cruel to her. There were avoidable issues off the court and everything she did or did not do was dissected with disdain. She suddenly left camp and flew to London in the middle of a pandemic. She hardly won matches with ease. There were times when critics questioned her commitment; she left her coach P Gopichand’s academy to train in Gachibowli Stadium under Park Tae-sang. Not ideal preparation. Yet she doggedly pursued her goal. She cooped herself up inside the stadium. She shut herself from all those distracting noises outside and ploughed on for that second Olympic medal.
Yes, Sindhu needed the medal real bad. More than her, the sport of badminton in India needed it. Its upward moving curve had suddenly stalled and started to dip ever so gently in the last couple of years. From the eight who qualified in 2016, only four managed to do so this Olympics. There was noise and too much of brouhaha off the court. A medal-less Olympics would have spelled disaster. If there was one person who had the ability to save the fortunes of the sport from plummeting, it was of course Sindhu. No wonder the nation considers her an all-time great.