If India’s sports establishment is tempted to pat itself on the back for clinching four gold medals in a space of 24 hours and finishing the 2014 Asian Games on a high, they should look at China’s final count: 146 golds. Or consider how they’ve fallen to eighth position in the medals tally, and have eight medals less than 2010, including three top podiums fewer than four years ago. India has taken a few steps backwards in disciplines such as boxing and rowing, sports that promised much at Guangzhou 2010. While the gold medals have gone missing in rowing and the slide is apparent in numbers, boxing presents a gloomier picture, especially in the men’s section, where India seem toothless whenever Vijender Singh’s absent.
Women shooters continue to disappoint at the top meets that matter, and if it wasn’t for the pistol shooters led by Jitu Rai, India’s most consistent sport would’ve come under the scanner, as will the freefall of shotgun shooters. Kabaddi barely clung on to the gold and most of the top medals have come through established names — Yogeshwar Dutt, Sania Mirza and M.C. Mary Kom — with very few net gains among new faces. The Asian Games are considered to be warm-ups for the Olympics by the top nations — China and Japan — that unleash their Gen Next on the global stage via the continental route. They are meant to throw up names that will deliver at the big games in the next two years. However, Incheon, despite the best efforts of athletes across disciplines, hasn’t brought forward any fresh name — save Rai — that can be confidently called a contender for Rio.
Finally, a note of caution for those rushing to felicitate the hockey team. A gold at the Asiad after 16 years it might be for India’s passionately loved team. But for a country that boasts eight gold medals at the Olympics, an Asiad gold — and qualifying for Rio — it might just mean settling for a lesser target.