By Anand Philar
Two silver and four bronze medals from 83 entries accurately reflect India's otherwise dismal performance overall, highlighted by the hockey team's 12th place finish, at the London Olympics and never mind all the hoopla over our medal winners who will be feted and dined like there is no tomorrow.
Not for a moment am I belittling or scorning our medal winners, but while I salute them and their achievements purely from India's perspective, we also need to slot their performances in the big picture, that is the World level. I would rather that we put our heads down and look to improve rather than go overboard in praising the medalists.
First, kudos to our medalists - wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, who defied the odds and rose from humble backgrounds; boxer Mary Kom stood up for the pugilists with a stirring display and even won a bout while her twin sons celebrated their birthday at home; shuttler Saina Nehwal and shooters Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar.
Yet, we should not be satisfied with anything but the gold medal, for, ultimately, the sporting world cares little for those who finished second or third. The likes of Bolt and Phelps have redefined excellence and Indian sportspersons should draw inspiration from these heroes to aim higher than they have.
Even countries far more backward than India threw up champions during the Olympic fortnight. Take a look at the runners from East African nations who dominated the middle and long distance races. Many of these athletes, unlike the Indians, have no quality facilities or opportunities to train, but such is their will that they overcome the odds to excel.
Unfortunately, some of our own athletes seemed satisfied just to have qualified for the Olympics instead of trying to perform. Excuses and excuses were all that we heard for mediocre performances. Worse still, there have been reports of dissension in the archery camp with coach Limba Ram at logger-heads with some of the leading archers, including Deepika Kumari who was a total flop.
Another Indian sportsperson, who failed to make it to the medal rounds, said he was "happy" with his performance. The boxing coach Sandhu, for instance, said that the pugilists "fought brilliantly". If they had boxed as well as the coach believed, then India should have won more than just a solitary bronze medal that Mary Kom picked up.
It is best we do not lose our perspective that indicates that it would be generations before India can hope for multiple gold medals, much less be counted among elite sporting nations. Never mind that our sports minister Maken believes that India will win more than 26 medals at the 2020 Games, but I wonder whether he can qualify that optimism with facts and figures.
If anything, the London Games only exposed India's dismal sporting standards. The point is our country knows not how to spot, nurture and train talent. There is no worthwhile system in place and what there is, it is steeped in politics and corruption.
The misplaced belief is that by merely handing out goodies like cash and facilitate international exposure trips is the way forward. What Indian system needs are quality coaches who can ensure that there is consistency in performance and who can inject confidence rather than drugs as our sports persons seem to perform in every other event except the Olympics.
I am sorry to say that few athletes, if at all any, have the commitment and focus to excel. There was our "top" long jumper Renjith Maheshwari fouling all his three attempts; wrestler Geeta exiting in the first round; "archery queen" Deepika Kumari tumbling out giving excuses; shot putter Om Prakash bowing out after just two attempts; one can go on and on.
It is one thing to boast about sending 83 sportspersons and quite another to objectively assess their performances rather than trot out excuses. In the run-up to the Games, the government spent a fortune towards preparations that included competition-cum-training trips abroad, foreign coaches, dietary allowances and what not. So, few can complain about support.
Perhaps, the most disappointing was our hockey team that lost all their matches, including the classification game to South Africa to finish 12th and last. Looking ahead, we can expect mud-slinging and recrimination as in the past with fingers pointing in every direction and just about everyone, but nobody offering a viable solution to set right hockey matters. Whatever, it would take a decade and more for Indian hockey to rise from the London ashes.
Our team might yet win the odd tournament or two, but ultimately, the yardsticks are the Olympics and the World Cup. Indian hockey's immediate and realistic target should be top eight and then four before eyeing the medals.
The tragedy is that our hockey administration is in a huge mess and the Olympic debacle will only make matters worse. It is all fine to talk about having a World league, TV rights, revenues, etc, but it takes much more than that to put Indian hockey back on rails. At the moment, the priorities seemed to be grossly misplaced and I doubt if anything worthwhile will emerge from the ruckus that is waiting to happen when the team returns home.
India has been through this many a time in the past and the scenario will not be any different this time. For a while, there will be a lot of heat and dust and noise, before life returns to normal, until Rio in 2016.
In conclusion, a big thank you to the likes of Phelps and Bolt for enlivening our evenings over the past fortnight. It would be a few generations before we get to see another of their kind. So then, goodbye London and Hello Rio!