One advantage of being a homemaker is that I had the privilege of following the Tokyo Olympics closely. Every morning I had dutifully switched on the TV and enjoyed the colourful sports extravaganza. I am not good at sports, even at carrom-board for that matter, but enjoying sports is altogether a different experience. Looking at the athletes from all over the world competing for the coveted Gold medal is an out-of-the-world feeling. Their determination and hard work are unfathomable. To be even in the finals or in the medal event itself is such an accomplishment.
I watched the first medal event in Tokyo Olympics – the women’s 10 m air rifle event. 21-year-old Qian Yang of China won the prized Gold. It was a historic moment. The memory of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore winning the Silver medal for India in the double-trap event in Athens came to me in a flash. Then there was Abhinav Bindra, who won Gold for India in the 10 m air rifle event in Beijing. Although a little disappointed by the performance of the Indian shooting contingent, I continued watching the best of the world competing against each other.
Age is just a number
I should talk about the men’s skeet shooting event, because the top 6 contestants hardly missed a single shot. The competition was intense. While most of them were young participants, 57 -year-old Abdul Al Rashidi from Kuwait stood out from the rest. My allegiance almost immediately went to him. At first, it was his age, secondly, he was from Kuwait, one of the smaller countries to win a medal.
He gave a tough fight till the end, hardly missing a shot. At one stage it felt as though it could be anybody’s game between the top four contestants. Abdul Al Rashidi won the Bronze medal, clearly sending out the message that age is not a barrier to success.
Can you believe it?
There was a live pigeon shooting competition held in the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. Over 300 birds were killed in the event. Thank God! It wasn’t a medal event and was duly discontinued after that one time.
Women who stood up for themselves
The women gymnasts have always worn one-piece suits like a baby-romper called the unitard. Like most weird rules in sports set up by authorities, this one was followed by all teams without objection for years. However, in Tokyo, the German women have made a bold statement by wearing leotards, covering their legs, instead of the traditional unitards. Most teams wear leotards for practice sessions. They argue as to why they cannot wear the same for the actual event.
Similarly, the women playing beach handball in Norway made a unanimous decision to wear shorts and play the game, instead of the expected bikini in the Euro 2021 tournament. The disciplinary commission of the tournament had fined the team for wearing “Improper Clothing.” I am proud of all those women who stood up against sexism in sports. I often wondered as to why women often wear skimpy clothes in certain sporting events, whereas the men always wear comfortable shorts? Now, this has cleared my doubts a little.
The women participants from Islamic countries have worn clothes they feel comfortable in Olympics. The International Olympic Committee doesn’t have a problem with it. However, it takes a collective effort by the women as well as the country to make their voices heard as in the case of Germany.
While flipping through the various sporting events, I was mildly surprised by a game. It looked like basketball, but had limited players. Most importantly, only one basket. This variation of basketball is introduced for the first time in the Olympics with three players a side. The swiftness of the game and the aggression of the players in this format is addictive. I have never touched a basketball my entire life, but this format is tempting me to try it out.
I follow the four Grand Slam tournaments in Tennis every year. This year Novak Djokovic seemed invincible with his victories in the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. He seemed all charged up win the US Open (to be held in September) as well. I even thought that he will win the Golden Slam this year, which is winning the Olympic gold as well as the four grand slam titles. My heart goes out to Novak for missing out on the Gold medal, or at least a medal in the men’s singles category. His loss made me realise that at the Olympic arena, no one is invincible. Steffi Graf will continue to be the only Golden Slam record holder for three more years.
Watching India in Olympics
Tokyo Olympics is the most successful one for Indian athletes. With one Gold medal for Neeraj Chopra in the Javelin throw event, we have won a total of 7 medals. I don’t want to trouble myself by giving the numbers and statistics, for enough news and data is available on the internet. My personal experience is the one I want to highlight here. I watched the events with my kids,10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. To my surprise, by the end of the Olympics, they were able to recall over 50+ sporting events. Also, the names of Indian athletes participating in some events.
When the hockey teams won stunning victories, they learnt the rules of hockey. By watching the matches of TT and badminton, they learnt its scoring system and followed along diligently. The tip of the iceberg was when they sat along with us at 6 in the morning cheering for Aditi Ashok and shouting ‘putt for birdie’. My little one was heartbroken when Aditi finished in 4th place in the Golf event. She resolved not to see Olympics anymore but ended up breaking it the same evening when Neeraj Chopra won the Gold. The memory will be etched in our minds forever, for we have waited far too long for that moment.
As ardent followers of the Olympics, my husband and I were in tears when we heard our National anthem being played in Tokyo. What made us happier was that our kids stood along with us through the tune of ‘Jana Gana Mana,’ commemorating the victory of Neeraj.
She deserves a special mention. I have been following her game for the past six years and she is an incredible shuttler. When she lost the Gold in the Rio Olympics, I was devastated. In Tokyo, she seemed invincible until the Semi-Final match. Her game has visibly improved over the years. Her shots are more refined and her placements world-class. Her comeback in the Bronze medal match against He Bingjiao of China with victory in two straight sets is a reminder of her capability. Sindhu is no doubt one of the self-motivated athletes from India. She has put our country on the global map and will continue to inspire several youngsters towards badminton.
When I saw the Russian athletes being represented as ROC (Russian Olympic Committee), this aroused certain interest in me. I learned that the Russians were banned to compete in Summer Olympics 2020 due to a ‘state-sponsored doping program’ in their country. However, some of them were allowed to participate representing the nation’s Olympic committee.
There are 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) recognized by the International Olympic Committee. These NOCs are responsible for developing, promoting, and protecting the Olympic movement in their respective countries. They have a separate emblem and a flag. It seems that even athletes from countries that are banned from participating can participate under their Nation’s Olympic Committee.
China against the world
Certain events in this Olympics were completely dominated by China. For instance, in weightlifting, table tennis, and diving, the Chinese athletes have claimed most of the golds. In weightlifting, I observed that there was no competition for the Gold medal. The Chinese were competing against themselves in the gold medal position. The rest of the world were fighting for the remaining two positions.
Even in other events, including the track and field events, the Chinese have won medals or at least their athletes sustained till the finals. I remember watching a video on Youtube about how the Chinese are preparing for the Olympics. The video says it all. From a very young age, the Chinese kids are trained by the Country for participating in Olympics. I am not much into numbers. While writing this article, the US athletes have surpassed the Chinese in the medal tally. All I wanted to say is that the Chinese select certain sports they are good at train hard to win all the medals under that category. It seems like a strategy. I think, even India should adopt such a policy and invest more in training our athletes in the sports we are natural at.
Dependence on individuals
Also, as a country, we are overly dependent on one person for a medal. This will put lot of pressure on that person. The status of World No: 1 doesn’t matter in Olympics. It all boils down to their performance on the given day. Seeing Deepika Kumari fail in archery and Vinesh Phogat in wrestling has taught us what pressure can do to athletes. There is no harm in wishing for a Gold medal, but pinning all our hopes on certain individuals and talking as though there is no one to beat them in the world, even before the events start doesn’t do any good to them.
I feel that our country’s Olympic committee should invest more in training the athletes, instead of gifting them enormous money after they win a medal. The Indian athletes have made us proud and I do not doubt it, but the sacrifices they had to undergo to be there, are enormous. India with such huge manpower should build better infrastructure and training facilities for the development of sports in India. Our goal should be to gradually improve the medal count in the next 20 years and not just the next summer Olympics.
My journalist friend made a snark comment on me saying that I am a hyper- nationalist. I am not aware of such terms the media uses these days for being patriotic. All I want is that I want more medals for my country. I will cry shamelessly in the medal ceremony and will continue to support Indian athletes.