Beijing medals have changed perceptions

first_imgIn years gone by, whenever it was time for the Olympics, people at home would speculate how soon our athletes would return after losing early.Since the time Indian hockey lost its sheen, it was almost unthinkable that anyone from the country would win a medal. Finally, Leander Paes changed the trend in 1996 at Atlanta with a singles bronze, after which Karnam Malleswari and RVS Rathore also ensured India had at least one medal each to show for their efforts in Sydney and Athens.Sports View by S. Kannan.I still remember when we went to Beijing for the Olympics, the talk was if India could win at least one medal. Nobody knew from where that one medal could come, though the common perception was the shooters would surely fire.Three days after the Games opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest, truly an architectural marvel, Bindra did every Indian proud on August 11 by becoming the first individual from the country to win a gold medal.It was a day which changed the way people looked at Indian sport. And it was that effort which had an immediate effect on other athletes as well in Beijing. Days later when Vijender Kumar and Sushil won bronze medals, it was proof the self-belief factor had come into play.From 2008 till now, I have been asked several times if Indian sport changed in any way, since we have started thinking about ‘how many’ medals, rather than ‘if any’. The answer is a resounding yes because after Beijing, there was another defining year in Indian sport – 2010.advertisementPeople remember the Commonwealth Games for corruption and wrongdoings but I cannot forget the medal tally of 101. It was proof that Indian athletes had started believing in themselves and how government funding could work wonders with proper coaching and exposure in place.If the Commonwealth Games were still thought of as a fluke, what the athletes did just after that in the Guangzhou Asian Games was brilliant. A medal tally of 65 was the best ever and it reflected the depth in Indian sport.Agreed, in 2011, if people talk of success in Indian sport, the foremost achievement was the ICC World Cup triumph at home. But now that the London Olympics are just 12 days away, the question once again is how many medals India will win?In the past, whenever Indian teams went for the Olympics, there would be sarcasm regarding some players at least. However, now that the athletes list submitted to the Sports Ministry for clearance stands at a healthy 81, it is encouraging that they have mostly made it to the Games through proper qualification, not wild cards.For the sheer variety of disciplines Indians have qualified in, we can say the signs are indeed encouraging. There are still many people who feel that encouragement for Indian sport is not fulsome. However, the way the government has funded athletes and hired foreign coaches, there has been no discrimination.Add to it the inputs from the private sector as well, which includes the Mittal Champions Trust and Olympic Gold Quest, and Indian athletes have much fewer reasons to complain.Let’s take sports like athletics and shooting. Krishna Poonia and Vikas Gowda are striving hard at their training camps abroad for months in a row, and on the other hand, Indian shooters have been hopping in and out of the country to train around the world.Such efforts by the athletes on their own are unthinkable as the costs involved are high. While it is easy to rubbish the Indian government for not doing enough, the reality is different. In fact, even for superstars like Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, the $ 6,000 funding per month does mean a lot.In my view, there are two sporting disciplines in India where there has been a huge slip-up, though I don’t think anybody could have expected medals from them. In gymnastics, after Ashish Kumar won medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, there should have been an all-out effort to retain foreign coach Vladimir Chertkov.Instead, the gymnastics federation and the Sports Authority of India spent time bickering and Ashish suffered. His training was ruined and he couldn’t make it to the London Olympics.The story of four Indian swimmers fumbling has also become infamous now as they secured ‘B’ grade qualification times and never improved on them for over a year. The end result was that with the international swimming body (FINA) naming 900 swimmers for the Olympics, Virdhawal Khade, Sandeep Sejwal, Saurabh Sangvekar and Aaron D’Souza were left weeping in the pool.advertisementThe Swimming Federation of India (SFI) then went with a begging bowl to FINA and has managed one slot for unknown swimmer Gagan AP. Maybe, had the SFI not pandered to the whims and fancies of swimming coaches at home and hired a foreign coach, there could have been an improvement in the performance of the swimmers.As they compete in a sport where nanoseconds separate the winners from the losers, I didn’t expect the Indian swimmers to set the pool on fire. But to waste time and resources is shameful, since they made no improvement at all.Back to the question of how many medals India will win in London, I don’ think anyone can wager on it. Athletics, boxing, shooting, archery and wrestling – I think there is hope from all these disciplines.Indian hockey is showing signs of improvement as well, but asking for a medal maybe a bit too much.Today, each Indian athlete believes he or she can win a medal at the Olympics. After Leander Paes in 1996, if there is one athlete who has inspired huge confidence, it is Bindra. That’s what one gold medal can do, though Sushil and Vijender are also our national [email protected] mailtoday.inlast_img

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