In London, India won as many medals as it did in the past four Olympics combined. Sponsors and officials should use this as a springboard to take India to the next level in Rio
By Vishwanathan Krishnaswamy
THERE WERE no easy days for the Indian media at the just-concluded Olympics. Each day seemed to throw up a chance; and a chance of seeing an Indian get into the final — and remember, making an eight-person final means your athlete is among the eight best in the world. And then there were some who were medal hopes, some good bets and some long shots. So it meant early to rise and late to bed. Not that one minded, considering I returned from my first Olympics 20 years ago with no medal to write about. Now, there is a lot to talk and discuss, not just about what happened, but also about new doors opening and promises shown.
Six medals — two silver and four bronze — doubled the haul from 2008. It also equalled the total number of medals won by India in four previous Olympics. But the reality is that this latest haul still does not do justice to the kind of talent that exists in India, if only because the pool of people is so much larger.
The six medals came from four different disciplines and three of them (shooting, boxing and wrestling) were bringing a medal for the second time, and one of those (shooting) for the third successive Olympics. The fourth, badminton, has shown enough promise to make India a force to reckon with in the coming years, because of the growing strength of depth in it.
It does not take a rocket scientist or a number-crunching genius to realise that almost all countries pick up a substantial number of their medals from specific disciplines. For instance, the US looks at two of the most lucrative disciplines — athletics and swimming — in terms of medals to provide them with a good share of the booty. Athletics has 47 sets of medals, while swimming has 34 and add to that eight from diving and two each from synchronised swimming and water polo. That is 93 sets from the 302 that are available at the Games.
Similarly, China relies on swimming, diving and gymnastics to deliver a big portion of their medals, and gymnastics has 18 sets of medals. The third-placed country, Britain, banked on athletics, cycling and rowing. Cycling has 18 sets, while rowing has 14 and canoeing has 16. Russia, fourth in terms of gold, but third in terms of total medals, relied on athletics, wrestling and gymnastics.
What this means is that the top medal-grossing countries have zeroed in on their strengths and worked on them to win more. Of course, China has an additional strategy, where it focussed on the events/disciplines in which the country did not win medals and worked on them with an 8-10 year plan. They had what was called Project 119 before the Beijing Olympics. In the eight years leading to the 2008 Games, the Chinese worked on the 119 events in which they had not won a medal. The net result was they won quite a bit of that and zoomed to the top of the charts in 2008.
INDIA SHINING, ALMOST
There were six medals, with the last two coming on the final two days of the Games, through wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar, the latter becoming the first Indian to win two individual medals from the Olympics. And he now wants a gold to complete the set that began with a bronze in 2008 and progressed to silver this time.
An understated sportsperson who shuns publicity, Sushil was the toast of the country. He was the flag-bearer of the team, who then flew to Belarus to train. He came back just in time for his event and very nearly made it to the top of the podium. Like Mary Kom, he apologised for not getting the gold and said, “I felt sad that we could not hear the national anthem at these Games.”
Between the semi-finals and the final, he was felled by an upset stomach. “I don’t know what I ate but I felt weakened,” said Sushil, who had to be satisfied with a silver. But till the final, he fought very well, beating his opponents convincingly. In the final, Japanese Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu won his country’s first wrestling gold in 24 years.
It was in the semi-final that there was some concern, before Sushil emerged the winner after being 0-3 down in the final period. His Kazakh opponent finished the bout with a bleeding ear and Akzhurek Tantarov’s coach claimed his ward had been bitten by Sushil. The Indian, when asked about the allegation, quipped, “But I’m vegetarian.”
A day earlier, Dutt used the repechage route to win a bronze. It was a path that Sushil had taken en route to a bronze in 2008. Dutt, who is Sushil’s best and closest friend, won his first bout but lost the next to ultimate silver medallist Besik Kudukhov of Russia. But in the repechage, fought amongst all wrestlers who have lost to the two finalists, Dutt won three bouts in a row — just like Sushil in Beijing — and won a bronze.
“Coming to the third Olympics, it was finally a medal for me, though I think it could have been a better colour,” he said.
Even before the wrestlers took centrestage, shooters Vijay Kumar (silver) and Gagan Narang (bronze), shuttler Saina Nehwal (bronze) and boxer Mary Kom (bronze) had already ensured that India will return with its best-ever haul.
Six medals is the best, but it could have been more. Boxers Vikas Krishan, Devendro Singh and Vijender Singh were all medal prospects. Vikas was unlucky to have his decision against an American boxer reversed after being adjudged the winner, while Devendro was a victim of ‘unfair’ scoring and Vijender admitted to some mistakes.
Wrestler Amit Kumar was unlucky in getting the ‘wrong’ end of wrestling’s version of tie-breaker, as his opponent started with an advantage in the ‘clinch’ in the tie-breaker in both rounds.
Shooter Joydeep Karmakar came fourth, double trap specialist Ronjan Sodhi blinked right at the end after doing so well and Abhinav Bindra, too, faltered at the end. Each of them were among the medal prospects.
Parupalli Kashyap, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa showed that with Saina, they could take Indian badminton to new heights. “This medal will do a lot for Indian badminton,” contends coach Pullela Gopichand. “We have the depth and a lot of junior talent coming up. The next four years will be crucial.”
On the downside, the archers were a letdown despite their ranking, and news of strife between coach Limba Ram and the current stars, Deepika Kumar and Jayanta Talukdar, does not augur well. Considering the campaign was a failure, the authorities would do well to nip all such problems in the bud.
Tennis was another problem area, where egos, more than opponents, hurt India. Players cannot be allowed to become bigger than the sport and that is something that needs to be sorted out right now to avoid the “selection drama” that took place before the Games.
Hockey was never going to be a medal prospect but it still hurt. Six matches, six losses and a 12th place finish at a venue where India won a gold in 1948, but also finished last at the 1986 World Cup. Hockey needs to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess, for it is a sport that still has a lot of support back home.
The rest of the participation was token, and hopefully, it will add to the experience. Now it is for the government, the ministry and, above all, the sponsors/backers — who have done a great job with the likes of Olympic Gold Quest, Mittal Champions Trust, Lakshya and Sahara — to stay the distance and take Indian Olympic sport to the next level. Lakshmi Mittal, one of the richest men in the world, was at hand to savour Saina’s success. Hopefully his appetite would have been whetted even more.
Taxing Run For Bolt
Despite winning three gold medals on British soil, Usain Bolt is not planning to run in the UK, unless there is a change in the tax laws. As per British laws, Bolt will be taxed on sponsorship earnings as well as his appearance fee. Bolt, 25, earns $20 million a year and has not raced in the UK since 2009. At the 2012 Olympics, there was a tax amnesty. “As soon as the law changes, I will be here all the time. I have so many Jamaican fans here,” he exclaimed.
Authorities feel the Olympics could turbocharge the British tourism industry and attract more visitors. The government plans a major push and among those targeted are Chinese tourists. They are also planning to attract visitors from Canada, Australia and India in the run-up to major sporting events, including the 2014 CWG in Glasgow.
UK’s Learning Curve
Of the 43 British athletes who won at least a medal, as many as 37 percent were educated at private schools, according to the Sutton Trust. Of those who won gold, more than a quarter attended fee-paying schools. In many state schools, sport is not a priority and therefore medal-winning and elite athletes often come from private schools, which provide good facilities. As a result, many have called for an overhaul of school sports policy.
Departing In Style
The departing athletes, officials and media were sent off from a special Games terminal at Heathrow airport, which was made to resemble a London Park to revive Olympic memories one last time. The walls displayed London’s skyline and the park was filled with iconic London designs such as the red telephone box and the double-decker bus. Staff were dressed like park wardens and a guard in bearskin was stationed at ticket presentation. The temporary terminal is part of Heathrow’s £20 million investment in handling Olympic passengers.
The Memory Tree
Athletes were invited to record their favourite memory of the Games and hang it on a ‘memory tree’ displayed at Heathrow. The purple tree contains missives describing the abiding memories of participants. Team Canada wrote: “Closing ceremony… Spice Girls!!!” US rower Jamie Redman picked Mo Farah’s first gold in the
10,000 m and US head of track and field Rosemary Monday chose Farah’s 5,000 m win.
It’s Payback Time
No sooner had the Games ended than the London Transport authorities announced possible hike in rail fares. This could cost the locals as much as £100 more for their weekly commute. London workers will be the hardest hit by the hikes as commuters could be paying more than £5,000 a year for their season tickets from January. If the hike is enforced as expected, the fares would be rising twice as fast as inflation.
Vishwanathan Krishnaswamy is a senior sports journalist.