Special Correspondent Anusha Sankaranarayanan , III Year B.A. English

There were two kinds of people who followed the Rio Olympics this year – the ones who woke up early in the mornings to catch the games of their favourite athletes and the ones who were content with simply looking at the news updates and score tally later on in the day. Regardless of the category one belongs to, what would have been impossible to ignore was the woeful fortunes of the largest-ever Indian contingent to the Olympics.

India’s 67th position on the medals table stands in stark contrast to countries like China and the United States, which topped the charts with medals across 25 disciplines. While most lamented this state of affairs, a closer look at the athletes’ individual performances reveals a latent sliver of hope for the future of sports in India.

P.V.Sindhu and Sakshi Malik proved to be India’s saving grace at the Rio Olympics when they scored silver and bronze medals respectively just a few days before the closing ceremony. Not only did Sindhu defeat at least three badminton players ranked higher than her to qualify for the finals, her competence at the sport also managed to rattle World No.1 Carolina Marin.

However, the star of the season was a woman from Tripura, who was hardly five feet tall and proved to the entire world that with dedication anything is possible, even performing the dangerous two-and-a-half somersault Produnova vault. When she missed the Bronze medal the entire nation wept with her, but it was not in vain since Dipa Karmakar embodied hope. Despite the lack of a medal, the very fact that she landed a spot in the finals spelt hope for a country which had not had an Olympian gymnast since 1964.

It was only fitting then that the three young female athletes, along with Jitu Rai, were awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award on 29th of August. While remembering the contributions of our medalists, however, it would be erroneous to forget those of the other athletes who spent four years of their lives channeling their energies into the Olympics.

Indeed, there were disappointments at Rio when the archers, boxers and wrestlers failed to bring in medals. While some missed it by a hair’s breadth, others exhibited disappointing performances in the heat of the moment. Among the former were Abhinav Bindra and the tennis duo Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna who lost the Bronze medal by mere inches.

Track athlete Lalita Babar was also the first Indian woman track athlete since 1984 and finished 10th in the 300m steeplechase finals. Others who showed great potential were badminton player Kidambi Srikanth, who lost to the Chinese legend Lin Dan in the quarter-finals, and rower Dattu Bhokanal, who clinched the first place in the Final C round in the men’s single sculls event.

What remains to be seen now is how India taps into the potential of these athletes to transform itself as a sporting nation. Previously, it was the lack of funding for sports which was considered to be the issue. However, despite the provision of resources for Rio, the potential failed to transform itself into results due to lack of planning. It is then perhaps for the better that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a task force to recommend an overall strategy for sports facilities, training, selection procedure and other related matters for the Olympics in 2020, 2024 and 2028.

Now is the time for our athletes not to be content with merely being Olympians, but to channel their willpower into becoming champions. And I hope that as I keep a lookout for them, they turn around and surprise me during the next Olympics!

[Photograph Source: Times of India]

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