The newer generation of sports followers in the country is hard to please. They demand higher standards and better performances in keeping with the highest international levels and why not?
That is why they feel let down by the showing of the Indian contingent at the London Olympics and term it as 'dismal' and 'pathetic' adding the cliched question that if smaller countries with perhaps one percent of India’s inhabitants are able to get a sizeable number of medals, why not a large country like India which is the second most populous nation in the world?
This question of course has been asked every time the Indian squad returns after a poor showing at the Olympics or a world meet. The usual answers are the lack of a sporting culture in the country, corrupt and self-seeking officials and administrators, a lack of killer instinct on the part of the competitors who are unable or unwilling to push their bodies to the limit, improper or outdated training schedules, sub-standard equipment and facilities and so on.
Certainly there are various factors why Indian sport has a long way to go before catching up with international standards. And when there is some progress it is found that other countries have advanced much more swiftly.
But to old timers what has happened in the last few Olympic Games is an improvement even if it is at a snail’s pace. Our generation grew up on the hockey team bringing home the lone medal from the games, be it gold, silver or bronze, apart from KD Jadhav’s wrestling bronze won at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 – all of sixty years ago.
And the nadir came when in four Olympics - Montreal (1976), Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992) - the Indian contingent returned empty handed. Not even a bronze from the many disciplines that Indian sportsmen and women took part in. Little wonder then that Leander Paes’ tennis bronze at Atlanta in 1996 was hailed as an outstanding feat since it was also only our second individual medal at the Games.
As the hockey team’s chances slid from bad to worse at each succeeding Olympics - the last medal was the gold it won at the boycott ridden Games at Moscow in 1980 when many of the hockey heavyweights did not participate - we sports fans had to look up to individuals to bring us crumbs of comfort.
And if Paes’ medal came as a pleasant surprise, the next medal four years later at Sydney was totally unexpected in more ways than one. Hockey and wrestling had been the main Indian hopes of a medal at every Olympic Games and so to obtain one in weightlifting was unbelievable.
What’s more it was won by a woman! Indian sportswomen hadn’t exactly covered themselves with glory at international meets with PT Usha being a notable exception with her outstanding exploits in athletics. But Karnam Malleswari was a path breaker and the gallant weightlifter was certainly an inspiration to budding sportswomen in the country.
Two individual medals at successive Olympics was a bonus given the woeful record of Indians at the Games. But what followed at Athens in 2004 was even more encouraging with shooter Rajavardhan Singh Rathore winning a silver medal. Surely now things had to get better though even the most optimistic Indian sports follower would not have bargained for the windfall at Beijing four years later.
A gold in shooting and a bronze each in boxing and wrestling made the heart of each and every Indian swell with pride. Abhinav Bindra became the golden boy of Indian sports while the feats of boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar were suitably hailed. Three medals – including a historic individual gold - in one Olympics was three times what our best had been in previous Games.
And now at London the Indian contingent have improved on the number finishing with six – two silver medals (wrestler Sushil Kumar and shooter Vijay Kumar) and four bronze (shooter Gagan Narang, wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, badminton star Saina Nehwal and boxer Mary Kom). The fact that two of the medal winners have been women should spur Indian sportswomen to aim for more laurels and the medal haul makes it numerically India’s best ever Olympic Games.
Actually with the improved showing of the Indians in the last few Games it was freely predicted that the competitors would come back with five or six medals. It must not be forgotten that more and more disciplines are being added to the Olympics every year and at least in some Indian sportsmen and women can hold their own even at the international level. The days are hopefully gone when the Indian squad will come back empty handed.
At London, if there were a few disappointments there were a couple of bonuses too. The hockey squad, Deepika Kumari in archery, Vijender Singh in boxing, Abhinav Bindra in shooting and the tennis squad were disappointments but Vijay Kumar’s silver and Yogeshwar’s bronze were bonuses.
The rest were not entirely unexpected. Overall it was an encouraging showing – even if the gold that was obtained at Beijing was missing from the collection – and augurs well for Indian campaigns in future Olympics. The improvement may be at a slow pace but at least there is an upward swing in the fortunes. And at the current growth rate perhaps we can hope for around a dozen medals at Rio four years from now!