Wheelchair critics always seem to judge the state of Indian sport by the number of medals won. The continuing question is always how many medals are expected, how have we lived up to the medal estimates. However, sports administrators across the country need to analyze sport in a very different way, which needs to go deeper into each sport.
While most seemed to be happy with our medal harvest, personally, the most encouraging factor of these Olympics is our performance in non-traditional disciplines. While we have the usual conversations that always seem to revolve around shooting, boxing, wrestling, and archery, let’s take a look at the not-so-usual suspects and, more importantly, make predictions that are far too early for it. ‘to come up.
If India is ever to move up the medal table, we will need to be able to deliver in a wide range of disciplines. We cannot just focus on the above, but need to see where other avenues for growth might be and continue to develop these sports. While the gold medal surely came from a sport where we had absolutely no success, enough has been said about it.
My strengths were the sports where we performed very well: golf, table tennis, fencing and weightlifting. Although there has been a historic silver medal in weightlifting, the reason I included this sport is because I believe that Mirabai’s medal will inspire a new generation to embrace this sport which is truly a niche sport with an extremely acquired taste.
Medals as a catalyst for new champions
Could this weightlifting medal be the catalyst for the next generation of youth, similar to the effect of Sushil’s bronze in Beijing in 2008 on wrestling, or Abhinav’s gold on shooting? Or on a macro level, could this medal popularize weightlifting in the Northeast the same way Mary Kom did in boxing? It could be an interesting study. Weightlifting is in every way a small sport. While participation includes a number of athletes from across the country; medal hopes are just a handful.
What I’m saying is you don’t need the depth of a lot, a lot of people involved to be successful. We seem to have a decent weightlifting pipeline. Jeremy Lalrinnunga seems to be the next hot prospect. Coming again from Mizoram, he is a gold medalist at the Youth Olympics and would certainly thrive in Paris. Other than that, we have a not-so-famous (yet) Bindiya Rani which is pretty much a Mirabai 2.0. She comes from a similar background, is from the same town and the same club as Mirabai.
Aditi Ashok, who was a phenomenon in Rio, cemented her position as a super golfer in Tokyo. She came to a medal putt, but the way she performed on the course for a pressure cooker of a final round made it clear that she could definitely make it through. While she may be talking about Tokyo from an Indian golf perspective, she is certainly not the only one.
There is of course a plethora of golfers, both men and women, who have made progress on the Asian Tour, but there are a large number of golfers who are doing very well. While Anirban Lahiri leads the way in men, Shubhankar Sharma and Udhayan Mane also keep him in good company. On the women’s side there is a group of golfers, all in their twenties, like Tvesa Malik, Diksha Dagar who won the LPGA Women’s Tour and have performed consistently. There is no doubt that golf is crowded with immense competition and the only key to making your way to the top can only be achieved by gaining depth which would result in medals in the future.
The other sport in which we achieved respectable results was table tennis and while most of the team was older with Manika Batra, Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran as pioneers there seems to be a multitude of young paddlers. who are now getting noticed. Manav Thakkar definitely seems to be one to watch, he was the world number 1 under-21 and it would be encouraging to see if he can replicate that in the seniors. Aside from Manav, we just saw Archana Kamath and Sreeja Akula have a blast at the recently concluded Asian Championships where India won their first medals in 45 years.
As I mentioned earlier, if we are to move up the ranks in the medal rankings, we will need to focus on sports with multiple medals. Cycling is interesting to watch. In 2019 we had our junior riders (L. Ronaldo Singh, Jemsh Singh and Y Rojit Singh) who won world championship gold for the first time in history. Although they failed to qualify for Tokyo, that same team would now grow into adulthood and mature as senior cyclists, and some medals at next year’s Games could be the brand’s debut in cycling. .
With next year being a sporting boon for all sports fans, it’s safe to say that we have a lot of new names coming up on the list of people to watch.