A new and developing eco-system that is more scientific, supportive and encouraging has shown positive results, bringing India an unprecedented medals haul of medals never before earned by us. It’s a promising start, that with better support from the private sector, and with clear leadership from the government can result in ensuring India trains its talent to bring greater laurels.
Pierre de Coubertin, regarded as father of the modern Olympic Games, described the three Latin words (meaning faster, higher, stronger) as “representing a program of moral beauty”.
These words, cherished by athletes all over the world, resonated over and over again in Hangzhou Asian Games as Indian athletes scaled new heights, breached old frontiers and created a watershed moment in India’s journey in the Continental Games since their inception in 1952.
As the dusk descended on Hangzhou city on 8 October, the myth of invincibility of China, Japan and Korea was blown away as India’s medal tally settled at 107 including 28 Gold and 38 Silver – its best- ever campaign in Asian Games. The only other mega event where India won over a hundred medals was the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 where its tally was 101 medals, including 38 Gold – its best-ever in those Games.
If not early signs of a revolution, Hangzhou Asian Games were certainly an unmissable inflection point for Indian sport.
While most medals in Hangzhou came from India’s traditional basket of events, many others came from unexpected triumphs and surreal finishes over formidable rivals.
Koreans have held an iron fist over the sport of archery for decades; monopolizing all 10 Gold medal events. Indian archers led by Jyothi Surekha and the young 21-years old Ojas Deotale did the incredible by winning 5 gold medals, downgrading the mighty Koreans to the second spot. This will hurt the Koreans hard and set up India as an archery powerhouse.
Squash, once a Pakistani fortress, guarded by the Khan royalty of Jahangir and Jansher, was overtaken by Saurabh Ghosal and Abhay Singh in a nail biting final reminiscent of the drill at Wagah border!!
At the Benjiang indoor stadium, India’s national anthem was played for the first time ever since the sport of badminton was introduced in Asian Games in 1978. The Doubles pair of Satwik and Chirag, known as Fire and Ice, claimed the Gold, ambushing the fancied Chinese and the Koreans. According to Gopichand, the National Coach, the Asian Games Gold is tougher than an Olympic gold. The Fire and Ice duo now have their task cut out for that elusive Olympic Gold in Paris next year.
The Indian Men’s Hockey team did an encore to an era gone by and reclaimed the Gold medal.
In Shooting, India’s bullet train was unstoppable till it reached its destination tallying 22 medals, its highest ever. Taming the dragon, Indians hit the bull’s eye in 7 events. Sift Kaur Samra’s gold in 50 M rifle and Palak Gulia’s gold in 10 M pistol, beating their Chinese rivals, will justifiably ignite dreams of an Olympic medal in Paris next year.
The crowning glory however came from the Track and Field events as Indian athletes swept 29 medals including 8 Gold and 9 Silver. While Neeraj Chopra kept his date with destiny defending the Javelin title, it was Kishore Jena who won hearts matching Neeraj for each throw; finally bowing out with a silver. The eighty thousand strong crowd roared as Sable and Parul Chowdhary stole the show with their incredible running in Steeple chase and 5000 M events earning a Gold and Silver each.
As Toor and Annu Rani dominated the Field by winning Gold in Discuss throw and Javelin, Men’s 4-400 Relay team created a new Games record while winning the Gold; the previous medal in the event was won in Jakarta in1962!!
Soon, the medals won in Hangzhou will become part of drab statistics. Not many will remember how these champions had toiled against heavy odds in the quest for glory. Not many will know that they came from the lower tiers of India’s middle class that resides in villages and small towns with scant training facilities. Recounting their tryst is necessary for preparing a blueprint for future if this momentum is to be accelerated.
Twins, Nithya and Vithya Ramraj, blazed to glory in 100 M Hurdles and 400 M hurdles/ Relay and brought home a silver medal each. Their father once pulled an auto-rickshaw in the lanes of Coimbatore to support the family.
Ram Babu, another medal winner, worked under MGRENA to earn a living when he lost his job of a waiter in a restaurant during covid. He bought his first pair of running shoes from the wages earned as a labourer.
Parul Choudhary, winner of a Gold and a silver medal and Annu Rani winner of Javelin Gold lived in hamlets in remote villages in the district of Meerut. Parul almost gave up training in the face of social ostracism not uncommon in that region and was escorted to her training centre by a defiant mother. Annu Rani practiced throwing sugar cane stalks in early days of her training for javelin.
Then there was Roshbina Devi, winner of India’s first Wushu silver medal who hailed from Kwaksiphai, an obscure village in strife torn Manipur which was falling apart when she was in the ring for her final bout.
While these stories are inspirational, they also reveal the enormous headroom for medals if the system of search and support can put its act together at the Panchayat level.
Athletes achieve high levels of performance when a conducive ecosystem is created for their training and competition during the build up to such mega events. The National Sports Federations and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), an arm of the central government, have a shared responsibility for meeting this goal. Were things done differently by these agencies in the run up to the Hangzhou Asian Games?
Yes, indeed. Instead of bickering over who was the boss, the SAI and National Sports Federations (NSFs) worked in sync to ensure that there was no digression from the assigned goal.
While NSFs organized robust domestic circuits and national camps with state-of-the art facilities, the SAI ensured that there was no resource crunch for engaging foreign coaches, psychologists, Bio-mechanics pros and sending deserving athletes for training abroad in Olympic training centres.
The new poster girl Parul Chowdhary and the poster boy Avinash Sable, winners in Steeple Chase and 5000 M, trained at high altitude training centre at Colorado Springs in USA under the renowned Symmond Scott. They were flown directly to Hangzhou just days before their events. Neeraj Chopra trained at the Olympic training centre in Lausanne, Switzerland under Dr Klaus Bartonietz for months before reaching Hangzhou.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
V K Verma is a former President, Badminton Association of India and a former Commercial Director, Air India.