Glorious Musings from Two Planets; Another Day Out for Indian Sports!

As Vikram took historic baby steps on a faraway planet, India’s sporting hero Neeraj Chopra and Chess prodigy Pragg lit up the skyline nearer home with their valiant efforts: It felt like returning from the theatre staging Shakespeare’s ‘All’s well that ends well’.

The theatre was the Budapest National Stadium; the play: World Athletics Championship; Act: Men’s Javelin and actors vying for the love of their life came from Germany, Finland, Czech Republic and the Indian sub-continent. The subject of their passion was not Helen; it was the crown of the world champion that was to be decided on that hot and sultry evening in Budapest, the 27th day of August.

Unlike Bertram serenading his lady love, Neeraj Chopra went about his mission with clinical precision. After a throw of 88.17 M in his second attempt, he threw down the gauntlet to his formidable rivals who proved no match to him in any of their entitled six attempts. With mission accomplished in Budapest, Neeraj Chopra’s vault now has all carets of Gold; Asian, Commonwealth, World Junior, Olympic and the Worlds. He is India’s best athlete, supremely talented, passionate and believes that ‘hope does not fall from the sky; we create hope ourselves’.

The results from the javelin arena on that night scripted another remarkable story on India’s recent strides in the Javelin event. Once considered the exclusive domain of Germany, Czech, Poland and Finland, as many as three of the six finalists in Budapest Worlds were from India!!  Well done Kishore Jena and DP Manu with your 80M plus throws; you will be the center of interest in this event for many years. If Athletics Federation of India were a corporate entity in the business of javelin throws, it would be the sole majority share-holder trading on the bourses.

Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, who won the silver medal with a throw that was barely 30 cm short of Neeraj’s, gave his countrymen a justifiable reason for celebrations across the border. Even though the event was made out to be an India- Pak duel, it was sans any bitterness or ill will and that augers well for the sport. Nadeem was quoted before the finals “Neeraj Bhai, you have already covered yourself with great glory; may you corner more tomorrow and may God give me also some part of it”

To qualify for the finals of a track event in Worlds or Olympics is no mean achievement. India’s 400M relay quartet ran their hearts out to become the first ever Indian team to qualify for the finals, create an Asian record and finish at a creditable 5th place. These results have a great bearing on the future of athletics in India. Men and women from Punjab and Haryana with body structure suited for throws and those from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka etc. suited for sprints and middle-distance running are natural choice for harnessing talent that can start an athletics revolution.

While Budapest was the stage for athletics, Baku, Azerbaijan was the theatre for Grand Masters who travelled from across the globe to duel for the Chess World Champion crown.

Pragg, the18 years old chess prodigy from Chennai, entered the fray as a rank outsider. He had an unenviable world ranking, no previous titles- big or small. Yet in a display of sheer genius that unfolded in the quarters and semis, he overwhelmed the two cowboys from USA (phrase used by Garry Kasparov), ranked 2nd and 3rd in the world to set up the title clash with Norwegian Magnus Carlsen.

Though Pragg had to concede the crown to the Norwegian, he let the world know that he was the Knight who will one day be the King. Pragg is an alumnus of Chennai’s well developed Chess Academy system with some of the finest coaches on ground. Lending an edge to this revolution is BR Ramesh who has coached Pragg as well as Carlsen. Vishwanath Anand himself runs a finishing school in Chennai to hone skills of those who make the higher grade. The Chennai story in promoting this game has remained grossly underplayed and needs to be told more emphatically. Chennai and its well managed academy structure can be leveraged to make the city a global center for chess learning.

Pragg’s journey in the World Cup underlined the power of a mother in this unique game. Kasparov and Vishwanathan Anand were quick to recall their own journey and applaud Pragg’s mother Nagalaxmi for her role in Pragg’s success. Nagalaxmi had travelled to Baku keeping him battle ready with home cooked food and a mother’s own prescription for quick healing when needed. Nagalaxmi’s packing list includes an induction stove, rice cooker, rasam masalas and her book of prayers that works as Pragg’s biggest shield. While checkmating the 2nd and 3rd seed in the World Cup, Pragg could well have whispered to them ‘Mere paas Maa Hai’

An account of world athletics is never complete without its most awe- inspiring event: the 100M Men final which determines the identity of world’s fastest man. In Budapest, a new sprint super star was born. Noah Lyles from the US swept Gold Medals in 100M, 200M and the short Sprint Relay. Lyles even declared that a new dynasty was ready to take over the Jamaican sprint kingdom that was once ruled by Usain Bolt till he hang up his golden shoes in 2017.

Lyles is a story of amazing grit and a mothers sacrifice to whom he dedicated his medals. Brought up by a single mother, Lyles grew up in a household which often lived on leftover food. Added to this was a lung ailment, so serious that he was more in and out of hospitals than on tracks. But destiny had chosen a different track for him and one can say that ‘elements so mixed in him that Nature stood up and said that he was to start where Usain Bolt left’

The World Athletics held in Budapest in August 2023 was the biggest sports event in Hungary’s history. The city of Budapest is a charming destination with the hills of Buda with its medieval castles and churches and the plains of Pest with its old Jew quarters, modern pubs and cafes. A poignant site is the front of the Buda castle with old torn shoes of the Jews who were made to stand on the water edge before being shot.

As the heroes of World Championships bid adieu, the next big face off will be in the Olympic Games next year in Paris, home of Pierre de Coubertin.

Athletics is a grueling sport with young challengers with big dreams and amazing levels of energy and aggression. Only Paris will tell us next year who from Budapest were able to weather the march of Time.


V K Verma is a former President, Badminton Association of India and a former Commercial Director, Air India.



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