Is winning a medal the only yardstick for success at the Olympic Games? This debate is set to rear its head again as Indian athletes failed to win a medal on Tuesday, the fourth day of full competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The silver medal won by weightlifter Mirabai Chanu remains the only medal in the Indian kitty as the country has faced disappointments in shooting with Indians managing to reach only one final thus far — Saurabh Chaudhary in 10m air pistol competition. He eventually finished seventh. Other stars like Manu Bhaker, Elavenil Valarivan, Divyansh Singh Panwar, and Yashaswini Singh Deswal — all of whom were touted as medal contenders because of their performance in the various World Cups and international tournaments flattered to deceive.
In contrast, there are the likes of men’s doubles badminton pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who could not make it to the quarter-final despite beating the British pair Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in straight games in their Group A match for their second win in three matches.
The win meant the Indian pair finished tied on two wins with world No. 1 pair Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon (Indonesia) and world No. 3 duo of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin (Chinese Taipei) as the Indians had lost to the Indonesians but beat the Chinese Taipei pair.
“We knew the moment Lee Yang/Wang Chi-Lin (TPE) won, we didn’t stand a chance. [Against the British pair] They won in two games and we won in three. It is quite sad. But unfortunately, even after winning two matches in the group, we don’t go through. But that is badminton and we have to live with it,” said Shetty after the match.
“Because of that, we came into it thinking it was going to be our last game in the Olympics. So we weren’t under pressure. We kept it simple. But it was disappointing to see the Indonesians (Gideon/Sukamuljo) lose [just before we went on]. I feel that we have learned so much from this badminton experience and there are a lot of positives to take home, ” Rankireddy told the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
And indeed that was the same attitude displayed by veteran table tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal as he was pitted against China’s reigning world and Olympic champion Ma Long. Kamal fought back tenaciously after losing the first game. He won the second game and had his chances in the third too, which he lost in extra points after catching up with his Chinese rival at 10-10.
The 39-year-old Kamal played aggressively, attacked his opponent on the backhand and went for high-risk shots, and successfully executed them in the second and third games to frustrate the world No 1. Though he eventually lost — managing only eight points combined from the fourth and fifth games — he went out with his head held high, having put up a fight in the match the result of which was a foregone conclusion. The same could not be said about some of the other Indian competitors — especially the shooters.
There was another noticeable performer in woman fencer CA Bhavani Devi, who won a match against a lower-ranked opponent from Tunisia and went down to the world No 3 from France, putting up some fight. Bhavani is the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics and even won a round in a sport of which she did not know much while picking it to avoid attending classes at school. Though she has received support both from the government — state and central — and private body (Go Sports), it was not as much as compared with other sports. She made the most of her chance.
Some others like backstroke swimmers, Manaa Patel and Srihari Nataraj, have faced criticism for falling short of their personal best in the Olympic Games pool. But they did try and considering the standard of the sport in the country, it was a big achievement that two of our swimmers — Sajan Prakash and Nataraj — made it to Tokyo by achieving the ‘A’ qualification mark, for which they had to work hard to cut one second from their timing, which took a lot of effort during these Covid-19 pandemic times.
Swimmer Virdhawal Khade is right that we can’t just criticise and dismiss those that have made it to the Olympics and could not put up their personal best. The pressure the sportsperson faces while lining up at the Olympics is immense.
It’s time the Indian public starts recognising the efforts put up by the likes of Rankireddy-Shetty, Sharath Kamal, and Bhavani Devi along with that of Mirabai Chanu. And celebrate it too along with the medals.