Finally, the qualification cycle for the Tokyo Olympics is over. In the end, around 115 athletes (as on Sunday) will represent India at the Games—a trifle short of the 2016 mark. The numbers are not always a good indicator for medals. The Rio Games five years ago was a testimony to the dismal medal-per-athletes ratio. Out of the around 115 athletes, only two returned with medals—P V Sindhu in badminton and Sakshi Malik in wrestling. On the contrary, we had just over 80 athletes at the London Olympics and came back with six medals, including two silver (Vijay Kumar and Sushil Kumar). The Beijing Games had a similar narrative—around 55 athletes and three medals. In short, numbers don’t always reflect the strength of the team. Olympics are an extraordinary stage where skill is not always enough and challenges are manifold. The romance lies in its unpredictability.
This may not be India’s largest contingent as envisaged by the sports ministry or the Indian Olympic Association. However, in terms of widening its base—from 12 sports in Beijing to 18 this time—it has achieved one of its main objectives. Sports like equestrian, sailing, fencing and even swimming have seen athletes qualify directly for the first time or in decades. A small step, but nothing compared to other nations that dominate. In gymnastics, we just managed one slot. In athletics, the hype around the 4x400m relay teams (more with women’s) fizzled as the qualification days ended. The men’s team just about made it, while the women’s team dropped out of the qualification zone. It had been quite a remarkable year too. Not in terms of performance as much as the circumstances under which they qualified. It was a start-stop-start cycle and every athlete had to rely on the art of patience and strong resolve to qualify.
All eyes are now on Tokyo. The administrators including the sports ministry are confident of coming back with a record haul. The chances though seem challenging, especially with strict soft-quarantine rules for athletes coming from India. The IOA has already called it discriminatory. Athletes, however, are prepared for anything in these uncertain times. On August 8, when the curtains are to fall on this edition of the Games, the reality will emerge. Until then let’s live on hope.