Indian sport has a new face, younger and more fearless. At the Asian Games, which concluded in Jakarta on Sunday, the country was represented by 572 athletes and nearly 200 of them were aged 23 or below. Free from the burden of past failures, they scripted India’s best-ever performance at the Asiad, winning 69 medals including 15 golds — almost half of the medal-winners belonged to the age group of 16 to 23. A dozen other teenage hopefuls fell agonisingly short, suffering their first heartbreak at an international stage.
From India’s perspective, the Jakarta-Palembang Games will be remembered for a number of performances — Dutee Chand’s mesmerising run in the last 50m to win the 100m silver, Saurabh Chaudhary keeping ice cool to win the shooting gold, Vinesh Phogat’s incredible tactical manoeuvre to beat a Japanese wrestler and Amit Panghal’s gutsy punches to beat an Olympic champion from Uzbekistan. But these Games will be remembered mostly for the change of guard they have ushered.
The baton has been passed in almost every sport where India considers itself an Olympic medal hopeful. Tejinder Singh Toor and Neeraj Chopra continue India’s legacy in throws with their world class marks in shot put and javelin throw. Vinesh carries on the Phogat legacy from her sisters Geeta and Babita while Bajrang Punia takes over from his mentor Yogeshwar Dutt, an Olympic bronze medalist. Amit in boxing, Saurabh in shooting and, of course, PV Sindhu are the other youngsters who’ve kept the tricolour flying high. There have been disappointments, of course. The kabaddi team, whose dominance in Asia can be compared to West Indies cricket or Indian hockey teams of yore, surrendered meekly to Iran. It marked the end of a dominant era, during which they won seven straight gold medals.
Much like kabaddi, India’s supremacy in hockey, too, has been challenged. The gold was on a platter — especially on the men’s side — but they became victims of complacency. These were four gold medals for the taking — the four biggest surprises of the Games as far as India is concerned. But the positives outweigh these few negatives, the most important being the emergence of a new generation of Indian athletes. After success at the Asiad, it’s over to them to win Olympic glory.