India’s Olympic contingent will come back to the country in the knowledge that, between them, they have won seven medals. It’s their best Games. Here’s a look at how that was possible but also what needs to be done to ensure a Rio like situation (they won six in London before two in Rio) doesn’t happen…
For a country that’s used to waiting more than a week for Olympic glory, the weightlifter’s silver, coming on the opening day, really was something else. It lifted the spirits of the sporting community and showed that pre-Olympics’ medal preparation (more on that later) could be trusted, at least for a while. However, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) tweaking its rules, weightlifting, which has a history of doping and corruption, could well exit the Games. It would be unfortunate — one of the few disciplines that has seen multiple Indian medalists — but the authorities will have to identify other paths to success.
Came into the event as one of the favourites to medal and lived up to his billing. However, there were a few hiccups in the earlier rounds but fair play to fight his way through the draw. The one obvious lesson for Bajrang is to not exert himself during the months leading upto the big event. The injury he suffered in June meant he could not even practice with a sparring partner for over two weeks, which hampered his preparations in the run up to the Games. The wrestlers had had a commendable show, especially in men’s. Deepak Punia missed out on a medal narrowly.
She needs no introduction. Her big match prowess, even coming into the Games, was well documented. So it wasn’t a surprise to see her beating China’s He Bingjiao to bring home bronze. That, ultimately, will be her legacy. India expects to win the biggest medals and, to be fair, she has always met those expectations — a generational athlete. However, the sport, as a whole disappointed. There needs to be renewed impetus to produce more medal winners. Sending just four athletes into the Games is disproportionate to the investment sport has seen in the last decade. If it weren’t for Sindhu’s bronze, badminton’s failure will have made headline news.
A first ever medal in athletics could possibly open hitherto unopened doors, it’s just a question of using Neeraj as an example to sell the dream to countless young athletes. However, Neeraj’s mark shouldn’t be allowed to hide the deficiency of the athletics programme. A few of them returned with timings and performances way below their best. After so much talk about the relay programme, the mixed team disappointed. While the men’s team set a new national record that they failed to qualify for the final speaks volumes about where India currently is at.
People who cover wrestling will tell you Ravi Dahiya was nailed on for a medal. He himself knew that, having stuck an image of an Olympic gold in his room before the Games. A big plus from a discipline that’s really got the grassroots right with multiple medallists from across age groups. The question now is can they start owning the event in a decade’s time? From an overall perspective, the women’s programme can do with some looking into. All of them combined won one bout (Vinesh Phogat) and ultimately disappointed. Vinesh’s early exit was particularly hard to take given that she was one of the strongest contenders.
38 people (including the six reserves and back up keepers) went, all 38 will come back as winners. Sure, the women’s team did not medal but, arguably, no other team or individual enhanced their reputation as much as them. What they did over the last 10 days is worthy of a rousing Netflix documentary. As far as the men’s side is concerned, it’s been a long time coming. They have finally delivered after, global medals at both World League Final in 2017 and Champions Trophy in 2016. But to use this momentum, both teams need bigger results at the Asiad, CWG and the World Cup, all of them inside the next 16 months.
Even as there was renewed focus on MC Mary Kom and Amit Panghal, the Assam-born boxer punched her way to history, bringing home a much-needed medal for a sport that came into criticism following a disastrous show in the Rio Olympics five years ago. The next challenge is to match the likes of Busenaz Surmenali, who dominated Borgohain in the semifinal. However, the men’s programme will receive some flak. All of them failed including Panghal, one of the biggest medal hopes going into Tokyo. High performance director Santiago Nieva has shown that he’s a capable man by getting his wards to medal in continental championships. The next step is global medals.
Of all the fourth place heartbreaks, this is the one that will sting for a long bit. Twice, she came within millimetres of sinking a birdie that could have potentially taken her to a play-off. That she was ice cool and composed while teeing off with Lydia Ko and Nelly Korda — two golfing royalties — spoke about how well she handled pressure. The talent is very much there, the next stage in her evolution process is to see if she can start finishing in the top 10 of the five Majors. No Indian athlete has more appearances at Majors than her, male or female, and she is only 23.
If ever there was an Olympic category for over the top pre Olympics predictions, India’s shooting contingent would have won gold for the estimates. Of course the media and fans will have to share that burden because most went by world ranking and recent performances without putting those results into some kind of context. There’s little doubt that the shooting programme needs some sort of root and branch review. Since Abhinav Bindra’s gold, there’s been two medals and none in the last two Games. For all the pre Games bluster, the squad, for whatever reason, literally misfired. Barring Saurabh Chaudhary, none of the shooters even managed to reached the final.