Despite no Indian managing to win a gold medal at the London Olympics, the fact that six athletes achieved a podium finish on the highest international sporting stage, shows that India has much more than just a spark of sporting ability.
Gagan Narang (10m air rifle; bronze), Vijay Kumar (25m rapid fire pistol; silver), Saina Nehwal (badminton singles; bronze), MC Mary Kom (51 kg women's boxing; bronze), Yogeshwar Dutt (60 kg freestyle wrestling; bronze) and Sushil Kumar (66kg freestyle wrestling; silver) have proved that there is immense sporting potential in the country in spite of the fact that nearly 30 per cent of the 1.2 billion-plus population still live below the poverty line. Sport can never be priority in a country plagued by more serious issues like illiteracy, poverty and a seriously inadequate social and physical infrastructure. But then, sport is a great healer.
Sports minister Ajay Maken has done well to promise coaching jobs to all past and present medal winners at the Olympics. Rewarding achievers is fine, but there should be added impetus on creating a system that ensures the production of more such achievers in the future. Encouraging sport at the grassroots level is a significant step in this direction. All of India’s six Olympic medallists took to their respective sports at an early age. With every passing year and intense training comes experience and together, this combination is what produces medals on the international stage.
The next Olympics, in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro in 2016, four years away, but the time to plan for it is now. The only reason China was able to end America’s dominance in the Olympic medals tally at Beijing 2008, is because they began planning decades in advance. Even today, thousands of young Chinese kids are packed off to government-run sporting academies in the quest for future sporting glory.
The story of London Olympics’ gold medal-winning Chinese diver Wu Minxia is a case in point. Her father spoke of how he held back the news of her mother’s cancer (and grandmother’s death) to avoid any distraction to the training regime. Of course, India need not be as stringent in their approach, but even if there is half as much importance given to sport and sportspersons, Rio 2016 could see many more Indians finish at the winning post