Gold Coast 2018: Time we raised a toast to the fearless generation of teens in Team India
Thanks to enormous self-belief and a fearlessness that the new generation of competitors appear to be blessed with, India is no longer producing athletes who seem content to bring up the numbersUpdated: Apr 13, 2018 23:52 IST
These teenagers made a whole nation of sports lovers take note. They made the country’s collective heart swell with pride with their accomplishments at the Commonwealth Games. Shooters Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala as well as weightlifter Deepak Lather, enormously talented and backed up by single-minded focus and intensity saw India come up trumps on the Gold Coast.
Assam’s 18-year-old athlete Hima Das’s sustained improvement in the 400m barely a few months after she took to the event has captured the imagination of many, more so with her ability to not lose pace on the home stretch when most others are slowing down. She may not have got a medal but she put up a spirited performance. There are others such as high jumper Tejaswin Shankar and swimmer Srihari Nataraj who served notice of their talent in the Commonwealth Games 2018 .
It is always exciting to watch the rise of talent in sport. More so in a multidisciplinary event. But when the talent is coupled with a maturity that belies their youth, the sense of joy is all the greater. Their ability to withstand the pressure of the high voltage sporting event and their calm and rational approach to their disciplines really sets them apart from the rest.
Of course, there have been teenagers who have been part of Indian contingents before but what is different this time around is that the participants at these Games are not in awe of their seniors, many of whom are superstars. They prefer to raise the bar for themselves rather than compete with earlier records. Their eagerness to dominate in their field is remarkable.
Thanks to enormous self-belief and a fearlessness that the new generation of competitors appear to have, India is no longer producing athletes who seem content to bring up the numbers. There can’t be better examples than quarter-milers Hima Das and Muhammad Anas Yahiya. Few would have expected them to come through two rounds of qualification and enter the finals.
The energy and enthusiasm of the youngsters who are willing to go that extra mile to realise their own potential and demonstrate it on the big stage needs to be appreciated. The path to such faith and efficiency has become easier because of the pathbreaking efforts by Leander Paes, Karnam Malleswari, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Abhinav Bindra and Sushil Kumar.
Unlike their predecessors, who did not have as many role models to follow, high jumper Tejaswin Shankar’s generation has no hesitation seeking inspiration from their peers. The lanky 19-year-old believes that javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s World U20 Athletics Championship gold medal with a world junior record is a turning point in India’s track and field sport’s history.
There is some food for thought too. It is not as if the Manu Bhakers, the Anish Bhanwalas and the Srihari Natarajs have surfaced only now. They have been around for a while, winning events and setting records. In an era when European football and American basketball leagues are switching start times to draw in young Asian audiences and their money, our younger sportspersons have been denied their rightful place on the international stage.
It is also important to realise that the federations and the ministry of youth affairs and sports are doing something right for such talent to be appearing with regularity. We have heard that this happens not because of the system but despite the system. And we keep hearing of how the entire sporting ecosystem in the country needs an overhaul.
The arrival of a confident set of teenagers sends a powerful signal that such discourses must change to become more meaningful: Can we have the two come together and help India deliver more of this? The idea of athletes getting the right training and support, including from sports science within the country, and earning their place in the sun is most appealing.
Yet, while we wait with bated breath for everything to fall into place and lead us to a better future as a sporting nation, let us take a moment to celebrate the golden success of Anish Bhanwala and Manu Bhaker and those of the other Indian teenagers on the Gold Coast. And let us also resolve to ensure that the positivity bred by such arrivals does not go waste yet again.
G Rajaraman is a senior sports journalist
The views expressed are personal