It's not often that the spotlight chases them. One would not expect Indian athletes to measure up to the popularity of cine stars, but on Thursday, the roles were reversed.
Seated in a corner table of a five-star hotel with her parents, it seemed paddler Neha Aggarwal would be overshadowed by the presence of Abhishek Bachchan and Sonali Bendre. But once the Bollywood stars finished delivering their good luck messages during a send-off function for the Beijing-bound Indian contingent, Neha and her ilk took centrestage.
While Neha's oratorical skills are well documented, boxers Akhil Kumar, Vijender, Dinesh Kumar and A.L. Lakra preferred to remain tight-lipped. Probably, they thought that just qualifying for the quadrennial extravaganza did not make them worthy of veneration.
Clichéd it may sound, but their ultimate goal is to win medals.
Aware that the boxers are the best medal prospects, those present including Raynald Aeschlimann, vice-president, Omega, and Indian Olympic Association president, Suresh Kalmadi, didn't lose time to shower praise on the pugilists.
Neha may sound repetitive but she is realistic at the same time. The 18-year-old national champion has been saying for a while that she does not have illusions about her prospects in Beijing and Thursday was no different.
While the air was full of promise, Neha refused to call herself a medal prospect. But she hastened to add that it did not mean she would land in Beijing without a mission.
"I'll put my best foot forward. I have a long way to go and I reckon the London Olympics in 2012 will present me with a better chance to have a crack at a medal. The aim this time will be to go out and upset a few of the higher-ranked players. I will be happy if I manage that," she said.
Abhishek Bachchan motivated the athletes with the words, "We have high hopes from our athletes. We act as heroes in films but you are our real heroes," he said.