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Asian Games 2018: Medal mix points to tectonic shift for India

This week, India’s champions have struck gold at a faster pace, won medals in sports as diverse as sepak takraw and wushu, and two of them, gold-medallist Saurabh Chaudhary and silver-medallist Shardul Vihan, are 15 years old.

asian games 2018 Updated: Aug 25, 2018 00:08 IST
Sandip Sikdar and Shijith P Kunhitty
Sandip Sikdar and Shijith P Kunhitty
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Asian Games 2018,Asian games,Saurabh Chaudhary
Indian rowing Men's team members Sawarn Singh, Bhokanal Dattu, Om Prakash and S Singh Quadruple Sculls with national flag celebrate after the medal ceremony winning the gold medal during the 18th Asian Games.(PTI)

On Friday, Sawarn Singh, Dattu Bhokanal, Om Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh — none of them household names in India — triumphantly raised their oars, and their hands, as a nation cheered. The joy of the gold-medal-winning men’s rowing team in the quadruple sculls event pointed to an Asian Games in which Indian sport is breaking new barriers — the daily ‘hit rate’ of medals is surging, the range of medal disciplines is widening, and the medal-winner is becoming younger, leading experts to describe Jakarta 2018 as a watershed moment in the country’s sporting journey.

This week, India’s champions have struck gold at a faster pace, won medals in sports as diverse as sepak takraw and wushu, and two of them, gold-medallist Saurabh Chaudhary and silver-medallist Shardul Vihan, are 15 years old.

“We, as a nation, have arrived in the sporting field. I’m very hopeful and confident we’ll keep getting better. In the Rio Olympics, we won only two medals but there were about 15 athletes who went there to win a medal as compared to earlier when there were only three or four. The numbers are increasing. The whole equation has changed. We have to look forward,” said Geet Sethi, multiple world billiards champion and director of Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), which supports 67 of India’s elite athletes with funding and training. “This is the culmination of the entire eco-system coming together which consists of the government, federations, NGOs, private enterprises, athletes themselves and coaches. Everything is getting professional,” Sethi added.

Sawarn Singh, Bhokanal, Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh’s victory gave India only its second gold from rowing in Asian Games history after Bajrang Lal Takhar clinched the men’s single sculls at Guangzhou 2010.

ALSO READ: Asian Games 2018: 15-year-old Shardul Vihan wins silver medal in double trap shooting

In martial art wushu, India stunned the continent by winning four bronze medals, the men’s regu team won a bronze in sepak takraw (like volleyball, but with the foot).

“It is heartening to see sportspersons from different disciplines winning medals and bringing glory to the nation. It is clearly an indication of how much depth we have. Now that we know what else we are good at, we need to give them a lot of encouragement,” said Pankaj Advani, also a former world champion billiards and snooker player who won two Asian Games golds in 2006 and 2010.

At the same time, India is building further on sports that traditionally bring medals. Though both the men’s and women’s kabaddi teams did not win golds in two of the biggest upsets at the Games, boxing, badminton, and field events are expected to yield dividends in addition to the already rich hauls from shooting (nine medals) and wrestling (three medals).

India’s tally of total medals at the 2018 Asian Games stands at 25 medals in in six days -- six gold, five silver and 14 bronze medals at the rate of 1 gold, 0.8 silver and 2.3 bronze medals per day.

This edition of the Games will go on for nine more days, till September 2, 2018, and if the rate holds for the duration of the Games, that would mean India’s 570-member contingent would end up with 15 golds, 13 silvers and 33 bronzes, according to a simple back-of-the-book calculation.

This would matching the record of 15 gold medals won at the very first edition of the Asian Games in New Delhi 67 years ago. India’s next best performance was at Guangzhou in 2010 – 14 golds, 17 silvers and 34 bronze medals -- two years after shooter Abhinav Bindra’s breakthrough Gold at the Beijing Olympics.

ALSO READ: Asian Games 2018: After winning silver, Shardul Vihan plans to switch event

Rifle shooter Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth at the 2012 London Olympics, said one big difference is that former top athletes are now giving back to the sport.

“Athletes in our era hardly had any scientific coaching but now we can see many giving back to the system as coaches. They have been there, seen it, done it. They’re telling today’s athletes what mistakes not to make. There are genuine coaches who are grooming this teenage invasions,” Karmakar said.

“The young brigade is also fearless and they know how to ignore negativity.”

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 23:07 IST