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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Tokyo Olympics: How 7 medals will impact the trajectory of Indian sport

With Neeraj Chopra winning gold, Indian athletics now has a legacy, a precedent and pioneer, and a totem who is just 23 years old.

Written by Sandip G | New Delhi |
Updated: August 13, 2021 2:50:50 pm
Gold medalist Neeraj Chopra poses during the medal ceremony for the men's javelin throw at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP/PTI Photo)

Healing

Neeraj’s gold: For years it hurt —the two fourth-place finishes of Milkha Singh and PT Usha at the Olympics. It was the closest that Indian athletics reached the vicinity of the podium. As much as Milkha and Usha were romanticised and revered, there was still a part of their own psyche that refused to come into grips with the near miss. No longer though, as Chopra’s historic throw in Tokyo shall exorcise the ghosts of Rome and Los Angeles. Usha herself thanked Chopra for realising her unfulfilled dream. Beyond that, Indian athletics now has a legacy, a precedent and pioneer, and a totem who is just 23 years old, who has just begun his career and with the potential to take Indian athletics to further heights.

Renaissance

Hockey bronze: Forty one years of crushing pain is over. For long, it seemed India hockey was quietly rolling down the slope of ignominy, its heyday a sodden reel of the past, beyond redemption and retrieval. The longer the wait for an Olympic medal continued for the record Olympic champs, the lonelier Indian hockey felt. But the men’s bronze medal—and the near bronze medal of the women’s team—could potentially wake up the sleeping giant. Hockey’s stature and popularity could soar, the team would only emerge stronger, bag more laurels, and the sport in the country of hockey’s Bradman, Dhyan Chand, would witness a second wind that could reinstate the departed glory.

The India field hockey team poses for a photo with their bronze medal. (AP Photo: John Locher)

Messiah

Mirabai’s silver: For 21 years, Karnam Malleswari’s bronze remained India’s only weightlifting medal in the Olympics. Though a popular sport, it seemed drifting down the drain after it got embroiled in doping scandals. The sport was teetering in an existential crisis when Malleswari’s spiritual heir burst into the circuit from Imphal, with a beatific smile and charming demeanour. She showed nerves of steeliest steel to overcome injuries and hurt and chart a new path in India’s weightlifting history. A path that would be devotedly followed by a thousand unknown Mirabais in the country. The most inspiring of India’s medals could inspire a barbell revolution, and no doubt restored the credibility of the sport in the country.

Mirabai with her silver medal. (PTI Photo)

Successor

Lovlina’s bronze: In Mary Kom’s Olympics swan-song, she found her successor too—Lovlina Borgohain, the doughty, gritty boxer from Baromukhia. Like her mentor, she has technique, tactical awareness and composure to be more than a one-off, to be a talisman of women’s boxing in years to come, to rule the world for many more years. In her bouts in the Olympics, she illustrated Mary-like tenacity to not surrender and keep fighting, even if your adversary has a better repertoire and reputation. Her emergence came just around the time when women’s boxing was slithering away from public eyes. Her emergence would catalyse its reemergence.

Bronze medalist Lovlina Borgohain holds her medal after the ceremony at the 2020 Summer Olympics. (AP Photo: Themba Hadebe, Pool)

Sustenance

Ravi’s silver and Bajrang’s bronze: Since the Beijing Games, India has been churning out world-class wrestlers at a breezy clip. But winning medals, especially in Olympics, is indispensable in sustaining the legacy from going askance. All it would take is a poor outing for an Olympic sport to go out of fashion. But Ravi and Bajrang ensured that wrestling would continue as India’s most prolific medal-winning stream in this century. Bajrang’s medal was more or less guaranteed, the colour of the medal was the only speculation, he is ranked second in the world and considered one of the finest around, but Ravi’s emergence was unprecedented, making his success sweeter. They could usher in an era of world dominance.

Ravi Kumar with silver and Bajrang Punia with bronze. (AP Photos)

Continuity

Sindhu’s bronze: Though she could not upgrade her silver in Rio, her bronze was well-yearned, accomplished as it was against a tough pool of competitors. As with the wrestlers, it was important that she keeps winning medals so as to keep the torch of tradition flickering, to reassert India’s stakes as one of the badminton powerhouses of the world. The medal could fuel her for more glory and a shot at completing the medal set in Paris.

Bronze medalist Pusarla V. Sindhu celebrates during the medal ceremony. (AP Photo: Markus Schreiber)

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