Sakshi Malik and P.V. Sindhu saved India’s blushes at the Rio Olympics.
After repeated heart-breaks, there was a real worry that India might return empty-handed from the Olympics. The fact that Sindhu won the badminton silver and Sakshi brought home a wrestling bronze was the saving grace for a contingent of 118 athletes.
The Indian contingent’s realisation of just two medals from a projection in double digits exposes the folly in the belief that merely an enhanced flow of funds would solve the problems that sport in the nation faces.
Before dissecting the performances, castigating the athletes, blaming the system and contemplating possible solutions, creditable performances at Rio need to be acknowledged.
Abhinav Bindra fell short of the medal bracket by the narrowest of margins in the 10m air rifle, coming up agonisingly short in a shoot-off. One cannot hit the bull’s eye every single time. The sport is such that one needs a bit of luck no matter how hard one trains and tries.
In the 50m pistol competition, Jitu Rai had shots of 6 and 7 in qualification, but missed out on the final with the last few shots. He made the final in the 10m air pistol event, though, eventually finishing eighth.
Rai is young and is bound to ride on this experience for future glory.
Skeet shooter Mairaj Ahmad Khan missed a berth in the knock-out phase in a shoot-off after a score of 121 out of 125.
The national shooting federation will need to take a hard look at the performances at Rio after the last three Games yielded a gold, two silvers and a bronze.
In tennis, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna seemed to suddenly lose their touch after two fabulous matches. Even in the semifinals against Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, they ran away with the first set before letting the Americans back into the match and eventually losing via match tie-break. The intensity of focus had possibly wavered.
As the only seeded team left in the field at that stage in the mixed doubles, Sania and Bopanna would have fancied their chances.
The fact that their preparations — or for that matter Bopanna’s and Leander Paes’s for the men’s doubles — were far from ideal will weigh heavily in the minds of fans.
The debacle ought to serve as a reminder that officialdom needs to win the players’ confidence and work in close harmony with them.
In the women’s doubles, the inexperienced Prarthana Thombare did play her part well, highlighting the need for Indian tennis to support its women players a lot more to have a player who can play alongside Sania.
In the archery women’s team competition, India made the quarters before losing narrowly to Russia.
In the individual events, Atanu Das, Deepika Kumari and Bombayla Devi were sharp in patches, but they were all beaten in the pre-quarterfinals.
The archers need better guidance and training to conquer the Olympic jitters.
There were expectations from boxers and wrestlers after medals from Beijing and London.
While Sakshi Malik did account for a wrestling medal this time, the controversies leading up to Rio were jarring. To deny Sushil Kumar — who won silver at London and bronze at Beijing — the basic clarity on qualification and a simple trial was a grave error.
Champions deserve to be treated fairly.
There is not much to say for the 30-odd track and field athletes who had qualified for Rio. The experts had reckoned that only Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh stood a chance of making the finals. Lalita did in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase.
While Saina Nehwal, a former world No.1 and the bronze medallist at London, limped out with a knee injury that required surgery, K. Srikanth lacked the conviction to pin down Lin Dan in the quarters.
It is in this context that Sindhu’s achievement ought to be evaluated. The intensity, intent and clarity with which Sindhu played, mindful of neither the stage nor the opponent’s reputation, was a lesson for Indian sport.
Though she fell in the final to Carolina Marin, a two-time World Champion, Sindhu showed that desire, if channelised suitably, can drive the athletes to great deeds.
Aditi Ashok kindled hopes with two good rounds in the women’s golf tournament before her chances were swept away in the wind. She will accomplish a lot on the strength of her Olympic experience.
Indian hockey showed character and grit, but lacked consistency. The fact that Argentina, a team that the Indian men had beaten in the league, won the gold should open the eyes of those who control the sport.
If the talent pool is tapped and trained properly, India, which won the silver in the recent Champions Trophy, is definitely capable of winning the World Cup and Olympic medals.
More than anyone, it was Dipa Karmakar who showcased the potential of Indian women.
As far-fetched as the idea of an Indian girl in a gymnastics final at the Olympics is, Dipa marched on with remarkable assurance before finishing fourth.
The takeaway from Rio for Indian sport is that pre-conceived notions ought to be discarded and a fresh start made, with a hard reassessment of priorities.
Every national federation needs to have a competent core group of experts who can show the athletes the way to be at their best on the big stage.
What is clear is that cash cannot buy Olympic medals.
So, instead of harping on the money being spent on the athletes, resources and thoughts ought to be channelised better.