With the Rio Olympics done and dusted, it is time for India to look at the lessons from its mixed campaign at the Games.
Just two medals, Sakshi Malik’s wrestling bronze and PV Sindhu’s badminton singles silver, are underwhelming, given the contingent of 118 athletes. This was the first time the contingent’s strength exceeded 100 at the Games.
Sports federations can learn from nations like Japan, Hungary, Cuba and Jamaica, which focus on select disciplines to ensure medals on a consistent basis.
In Rio, Japan won 41 medals — 12 gold, eight silver and 21 bronze. Judo accounted for 12 of these with three gold, one silver and eight bronze. Swimming and wrestling returned the hosts of the 2020 Games nine and seven medals.
Nine of Hungary’s 14 medals came from aquatic sports, with seven in swimming and two in canoe sprint. Four were won in fencing and one in athletics.
Cuba won seven of its nine medals in boxing (four) and wrestling (three). Judging by numbers, even North Korea has a speciality of sorts, winning four of its seven medals in weightlifting.
Not surprisingly, Jamaica (11), Ethiopia (eight) and Kenya (13) won all their medals in athletics. Jamaica’s focus ranges from sprinting to the middle distances, while Ethiopia and Kenya’s athletes target the middle and long distances.
These countries’ excellence in select sports isn’t a one-off occurrence either. At the London Games four years ago, Japan won seven judo medals, 11 in swimming and six in wrestling. Swimming (three), canoe sprint (six) and fencing (one) won Hungary 10 of its 17 medals, while Cuba won four in boxing and two in wrestling. Jamaica won all 12 of its medals in athletics, so did Kenya (11) and Ethiopia (seven). A look at numbers from the 2008 Beijing Olympics suggests similar trends.
India’s all-time Olympic tally of 28 medals, which includes the two in Rio, has come across eight sports. With 118 athletes competing in 15 disciplines, perhaps India stretched itself thin in trying to target too many sports. After all, Jamaica competed in just four sports, Kenya in three and Ethiopia in seven. One Olympics after another, they ensure a yield of medals in select sports.
India’s recent medals have been won predominantly in shooting, wrestling, boxing and badminton. This is perhaps a starting point in identifying sports that ought to be targeted.
This isn’t to suggest that athletes in other sports must be neglected. If Rio has taught us one thing, it’s that even athletes like gymnast Dipa Karmakar and rower Dattu Bhokanal, with little support and despite the hardships they’ve faced, can perform tremendously. Imagine how well they would fare with a little more support.
Countries that consistently win medals on the global stage in select disciplines cannot do so without having systems in place.
Hungary sent 154 athletes to Rio to compete in 21 sports, while Japan sent 346 across 36 sports. Yet, they can always bank on the likes of swimming and judo to deliver. That’s the kind of reliability India needs.