You cannot miss the buzz around the 81-strong Indian contingent that is hoping to mark its presence at the London Olympics beginning in just over 48 hours from now. There is talk about winning medals – for a change with some justification – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the likes of Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom, besides our shooters, archers, wrestlers and boxers come away with Olympic glory.
I do not recall any other previous Olympics in the past four decades, especially in the wake of our hockey downfall, when we could realistically hope for a medal in any event, much less the colour of the metal.
Of the lot, Nehwal, ranked fifth and with some stunning wins over the Chinese going into the Olympics, appears the best medal bet from India’s perspective. Nehwal has everything going for her and ahead of the competition, she has no fitness or injury worries. Given her three recent titles in the Swiss, Thailand and Indonesian Open tournaments, Nehwal appears well prepared for the Olympics, though I hope she had some time off from the courts to relax.
The other day, when I met Prakash Padukone, he said Nehwal has more than just a good chance to win the Olympics gold. “She has to ease off nearing the Games and probably relax a bit so that she goes into competition fresh in body and mind. Saina is definitely a medal prospect,” said the 1980 All-England champion.
Of course, she will have to cope with huge expectations, but I feel she has the temperament and character to withstand the pressure. After all, it is easier to perform abroad than at home where the athlete is bound to be under closer scrutiny.
Also for a change, the Sports Ministry has appointed a sportsperson, the 1975 hockey World Cup winning captain Ajit Pal Singh, as the Chef-de-Mission, a move that has been welcomed universally. It is to be hoped that his presence will inspire our hockey team to attain greater heights.
Another good move has been to include former sportspersons in the government junket rather than officials and babus though it has caused quite a bit of heartburn among those who were eyeing a paid holiday. In the past, these freeloaders hardly ever watched an event, but preferred to waste public funds in shopping and sightseeing. There was no accountability and on return, these freeloaders would submit an eyewash of a report that would be consigned to some dusty corner of the office, if not the dustbin.
A lot is expected of our hockey team, but given the strength of other teams in India’s group, we face a tough task of finishing even in the top six, much less win a medal. India go up against the Dutch and there are the Germans, the Kiwis, the Koreans and the Belgians who with their 11-man defence can hold off the best in the business.
Under the circumstances, India will need to play out of their skins to finish third behind Germany and Holland whom I expect to qualify for the semi-finals from this group. We can fancy our chances against New Zealand, Korea and Belgium, but to beat these three teams, India will have to play far better than they have in the recent times.
For sure, coach Nobbs will have his hands full to keep the players motivated, given the fact that only two of them, Ignace Tirkey and Sundeep Singh, have Olympic experience. Thus, almost the entire team will be new to the Olympic environment and they will realize that all the teams, without exception, raise their game to a higher level than in the other tournaments. It will be an education for our players.
After all, Olympics is like no other event in terms of atmosphere, level of competition and of course, human endeavour. There will be stories of sacrifices and defying odds just to get to Olympics and these are the elements that make the Games so special.
Even the likes of Federer and Sharapova are not sparing any effort in their chase for the gold medal. Their very presence will give tennis a massive profile and yes, from India’s perspective, it is to be hoped that at least one of our doubles combinations win a medal. It is a realistic hope, and with so much bad blood being spilt in the past month over selection, the players will not be forgiven if they return empty-handed.
I don’t expect anything from our athletes given the high standards in athletics where the focus would be on the Bolt vs Blake clash in the sprints. There is no PT Usha to give us hope though she will be in London with her ward Tintu Luka, the 800 metres runner who will have to run faster than any time before to even qualify for the finals.
Thus, on Friday night, it will be all systems go in the cramped and crowded London whose pride and infrastructure would be put to test as the world’s best congregate for a fortnight’s celebration of sporting excellence. So, let the Games begin!
No honking please, we are British!