New Delhi, December 28: The euphoria over sending its biggest contingent ever to the Olympics did not last as the performance of Indian athletes did not measure up to promise. It was a crushing reminder to not only sports authorities but also to an expectant nation that believed medals were just there for the taking — all our athletes needed do was show up in sufficient numbers.
In the event, the Indian Olympics Association’s (IOA) hope of a double-digit tally — better than the six-medal haul in London four years earlier — came to nought as India returned with a mere silver and a bronze from the Rio Games.
As the Games began, similar headlines — predictably on the lines of “Indians knocked out” — started stacking up on the internet’s “most-viewed” lists.
India’s deep embarrassment was redeemed ever-so-partially by four women — silver-winning shuttler P.V. Sindhu, “bronzed” wrestler Sakshi Malik, a refreshingly confident gymnast Dipa Karmakar and 18-year-old golfer Aditi Ashok, the latter two missing the podium but giving a worthy account of themselves, all treading into unchartered territory as Indian women athletes.
As the collective thought process of the nation turned from hope to despair, it was Malik who finally broke an unwanted duck, on the 13th day of the global competition. Sindhu and Dipa put a bit of gloss on it and everyone was happy again — the narrative changing to “women power” or “girl power”.
Wrestler Narsingh Yadav’s protracted but ultimately wasteful saga of “earning” a spot at the Olympics but getting disqualified for doping hours before his first bout was another ignominy India could have done without.
But all this was a mere footnote when viewed in the global context.
The title-screamers remained two true-blue greats, who were at the sunset end of their distinguished careers.
Swimming superstar Michael Phelps announced his swansong with a haul of 28 medals, 23 of them gold, to become the most decorated Olympian of all time — and tying with India’s overall tally.
The American signed off his glittering career with an Olympic tally of gold in 13 individual events and 10 in team categories, wrapping up his Rio commitments with six medals.
The mantle of being the Games’ greatest crowd-puller and showman was, however, reserved for “sprint king” Usain Bolt.
The Jamaican has repeatedly professed his dream of going out with a bang and he bolted away from his opponents, from the gun shot to the finish line, with the same ridiculous ease that has made the sprint events a one-man show over the years.
His cheeky smile towards the camera before finishing ahead of his rivals by a considerable margin in his 100 metre semi-final heat was as much mirth-invoking as tennis star Victoria Azarenka’s joking but significant assertion: “Who can catch this guy? Maybe The Flash?”
Athletics’ pin-up boy’s glitter didn’t fade despite the threat from an all-engulfing doping scandal, which questioned the very integrity of track and field events and the Games at large.
His broad and muscular shoulders were thrust with the formidable task of restoring faith in a sport that reached its nadir just before the Games were to begin, due to rampant doping abuse that saw Russia’s athletes deemed barred from contesting.
The Jamaican not only showed the world that you can still win by staying “clean”, but gave a thumping snub to all those in the athletics community who believe that it is impossible to win without bending rules or cutting corners.
The first-ever “triple-triple”, nine track and field golds in three successive Olympics (2008, ’12, ’16), gave Bolt Olympic immortality but even more paramount for the world of sports was his image as a drug-free sportsman, of good winning over evil.
The most successful football team on the plant with five world titles, Brazil, led by the prodigiously talented superstar-in-waiting Neymar, also ended their voodoo of never claiming an Olympics gold. Beating Germany, their opponents in that tormenting 1-7 2014 World Cup semi-final humiliation, was an added incentive.
Olympic and world records were re-set in several disciplines at Rio, raising the bar higher for not only podium-seekers in Tokyo 2020 but also India as a sporting nation.
By Sayan Mukherjee (IANS)