Now that the Olympics are over and we’ve had a week to ponder perhaps its easier to answer the question: was India’s performance disappointing or satisfactory?
There’s no doubt with six medals we’ve done better than any previous Olympics. Certainly our wrestlers performed brilliantly, with Sushil Kumar the first individual to win in consecutive Olympics.
But we failed to retain the gold we won at Beijing nor did we win any other. Also, one of our medals was won by default and not by winning games. On a per capita basis our performance was the worst of all the countries in the medals table.
It’s an even sorrier story if you look at our performance in individual sports. To begin with, our great hopes were shooting and boxing. They remained, largely, unfulfilled.
Though Vijay Kumar did us proud and Gagan Narang won a bronze, the rest of our shooting stars fizzled out. Bindra and Sodhi didn’t even make it to the finals.
Similarly in boxing. Mary Kom won a creditable bronze but our male boxers regressed. At Beijing, of the five, three got into the quarters and one won a medal. In London, of the seven, only two made it to the quarters and none won a medal.
Tennis was no better. While our players displayed great fighting spirit before the Olympics, as they challenged each other, it seemed to drain out of them in London. And the less said about our archers the better. Even a reigning world champion failed to win a medal.
The real disaster was hockey, once considered our national sport! After winning eight golds up to 1980, this time we ended up last and have the dubious distinction of being the only team not to win a single game. However we did ‘improve’ on our previous low — in Atlanta, in 1996, we came eighth; this time 12th.
So, for a country of 1.2 billion, is this satisfactory or disappointing? My answer is clear and simple: we have individual outcomes to be pleased with but, overall, we have little reason to be proud. A country that perceives itself as an emerging superpower can’t draw satisfaction from two silver, four bronze and a handful of near-misses. And we certainly shouldn’t boast we sent more athletes than ever before or take comfort from qualifying to play hockey in London, which didn’t happen in Beijing.
In contrast, Kazakhstan won seven gold medals and 13 in all, Iran four gold and 12 in all, Brazil three gold and 17 in all and Ethiopia three gold and seven in all. Their rankings were 12th, 17th, 22nd and 25th respectively. Ours, out of 79 medal winning countries, 55th.
The sports minister’s explanation is that India cannot expect better while it has a poor Human Development Index (HDI) and low per capita income. In other words, we’re too poor and under-developed to win more medals.
I find that hard to swallow. How come this didn’t affect hockey in the 50s and 60s, when we regularly won gold? Or our cricket today, where we win World Championships? How come Ethiopia isn’t similarly handicapped? And why does China, whose HDI ranking is 101 compared to our 134, win more medals than everyone except USA?
I’m sure there are other and better reasons why we performed poorly, but that’s another story. My point is if we’re going to improve we must accept 2012 was not satisfactory. Because if little things please us big achievements will elude us.
(Views expressed by the author are personal)