Finally, after a gap of 13 years, India tasted another “golden moment” when javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra broke the jinx and became the first Indian track and field athlete in history to win a gold medal.
The feeling, which had come when a reticent 10m air rifle marksman, Abhinav Bindra, had first won a bar of individual gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, returned. Only that, this time it was more profound, as an athlete from the hinterland — the heart of the country — had won a gold medal.
Chopra’s lion-hearted effort was perhaps a reflection of the newfound confidence of Indian athletes, who have fronted the pandemic with determination and come out stronger over the last 16 months.
Barring the Indian shooters and tennis players — who let the country down big time and created an atmosphere of dismay and dejection — every other athlete who donned the Indian jersey was a winner, whether he/she won a medal or not.
Golfer Aditi Ashok, ranked 200th in the world, battled the debilitating aftereffects of Covid-19 and led the world’s top golfers till the last shot, before missing out on a bronze medal by just one stroke.
The women’s hockey team, led by Rani Rampal, fought tooth and nail before losing 3-4 to Great Britain after defeating world No. 2 Australia in the quarterfinals. Boxer Satish Kumar fought with 13 stitches above his eye and on his chin against world No. 1 Bakhodir Jalolov of Uzbekistan before bowing out with head held high in the super-heavyweight category.
There were several such heroic tales over the last fortnight which caught the imagination of the diehard Indian fan, even as some of the best Indian shooters ranked among the best in the world, continued to fire blanks.
Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu provided the silver lining on a day when some of the most talented shooters, including pistol marksman Saurabh Chaudhary and rifle ace Elavenil Valarivan, flattered to deceive on the first full day of competitions at the Olympics.
The 26-year-old Manipur lifter exorcised the ghost of the 2016 Rio Olympics with a total lift of 202kg to clinch India’s second medal in weightlifting after Karnam Malleswari’s bronze in 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Shuttler PV Sindhu’s bronze – her second at the Olympics after the silver at 2016 Rio – and the fight she put up against He Bingjiao of China on the first day of August was the spark the country needed to emerge from the gloom.
Wrestlers Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia, and boxer Lovlina Borgohain then took it as a challenge to push the limits of their mental and physical endurance to win medals for the country.
The men’s hockey team bagged a bronze — a medal in hockey after a gap of 41 years, fighting back to beat Germany in a close encounter.
Last day, last show: The signs were propitious. Golfer Aditi Ashok had finished fourth after leading the field in all four rounds, galvanising the country to wake up at 2:00 am on Saturday for a miracle on the golf course. A miracle it was as the 200th ranked player, with mother as caddie, upset the formbook by becoming the first golfer from the country to come this far.
Half an hour before, Neeraj Chopra’s javelin final, wrestler Bajrang Punia removed the kneecap and layers of tape from his injured right knee to go all out for bronze, risking a career-threatening injury, to beat Kazakh wrestler Daulet Niyazbekov. Bajrang won bronze.
Over to Neeraj Chopra and the Subedar with 4 Rajputana Rifles in the Indian Army, created history by hurling the spear to a distance of 87.58 metres.
Abhinav Bindra welcomed Chopra to “the Club”. “It is not the most happening of places yet and needs more members, but I feel your entry is going to pave the way for many more deserving athletes,” Bindra wrote in his letter to Chopra.
Chopra has probably shown India the way to Olympic glory in the years to come.