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Sports: the decade in which we found new heroes

After its performance at London, India might be on the cusp of a revolution where winning Olympic medals could become a norm and not an exception as used to happen in the pre-2004 era, writes Pradeep Magazine.

brunch Updated: Feb 25, 2014 12:11 IST
Pradeep Magazine
Pradeep Magazine
Hindustan Times
10 Years of Brunch,Brunch,Hindustan Times

The first issue of Brunch in Delhi came out on February 1, 2004. Nine months later, with the launch of the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Brunch was introduced to readers there as well. The Delhi Brunch completes 10 years this month.

And so we bring you a special two-part anniversary issue, on the theme 'Look How We've Changed!' We asked writers, specialists in their field, to do a series of essays for us, chronicling these changes.

In this essay, senior sports journalist and Advisor Sports, Hindustan Times, Pradeep Magazine takes us through a decade of sporting excellence.

The era of Olympic ignominy
One of the most embarrassing experiences for the scores of India media contingents covering the Olympic Games used to be when people would deride them with the question: What are you guys doing here when your country can't even compete, let alone win a medal? The only real reason of pride at the Olympic arena was provided by the wielders of the hockey stick, who kept on increasing our gold tally from 1928 onwards. Even that satisfaction was snatched away in the astro-turf era when even to qualify for the Games became a major event for us.

At Athens 2004, shooting champion Rajyavardhan Rathore became the second individual medal winner after wrestler KD Jadhav in Helsinki 1952. (Photo: Getty images)

This derision has lessened a lot in the last one decade. In fact, there is now a feeling among the sporting elite that India could be on the cusp of a revolution where winning medals could become a norm and not a rare exception as used to happen in the pre-2004 era.

A nation whose obsession with and achievements in cricket are only too well documented, is still is not a powerhouse in Olympic sports, far from it. Winning a few medals in the last Games or a lone Gold that Abhinav Bindra shot at the 2008 Olympics can't make India believe that it has achieved its goal of competing with the best in the world.

Rajyavardhan Rathore and beyond
Countries with one hundredth of our population and very poor economic growths have done better than us. Yet, India has reason enough to celebrate the last decade, especially given the fact that it had so little to show in the previous decades.

The memory of a Tricolour-draped Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore standing on the podium to wear the silver medal at the Athens Olympics is an image that ignited the nation exactly ten years ago. It was followed four years later by Abhinav Bindra's gold medal: the first individual gold, and still the only one we have won at the Olympics. It has been followed by a double medal winning feat by wrestler Sushil Kumar, and boxer Vijender Singh, lending stature and glamour to the sport of boxing with a bronze.

The golden year
The year 2012 was a golden year for India, though a gold medal eluded them. Still, two silvers, Sushil Kumar's second medal and shooter Vijay Kumar's achievements combined well with the bronze of Gagan Narang, wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, badminton star Saina Nehwal and woman boxer Mary Kom, to give India its richest medal haul at one Games. In badminton Saina became the number 2 player in the world, with the extremely talented and young PVS Sindhu showing potential at the world stage.

On the world stage
In a real sense, one man who has epitomised success for India is chess master Viswanathan Anand, who remained a world champion till Magnus Carlsen dethroned him last year in Chennai. It is either a reflection on the sport itself, or our own responses to a sport which is played more in the mind and has very little or no physical exertion involved, that Anand does not have a cult status in India which many believe he deserves.

Add to these the Grand Slam doubles victories of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes and the achievements of golfers like Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal, and you can safely say India is coming out of the one-sport nation mould.

The memory of a Tricolour-draped Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore on the podium at the Athens Olympics ignited the whole nation exactly ten years ago.

The sad part of Indian sport, as in everywhere else, has been the pathetic state of its governance. Despite having hosted the Commonwealth Games, and having done exceeding well in it, the charges of corruption against the administrators took a lot of sheen away from these achievements. We had reached a stage where the global Olympic body had derecognised the Indian Olympic Association for electing officials accused of corruption in 2012, in breach of the Olympic charter. But mercifully, thanks to a sprucing-up act, India is now back into the Olympics fold.

And then there is cricket
One abiding image of Indian sport will always remain the superhuman achievements of Sachin Tendulkar. His astounding record, be it international 100 hundreds, or the runs he has scored in both formats of the game, are mind-boggling. In the sport he played, India became, albeit for a brief while, the number one Test team in the world. The decade saw the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble showcase their skills with great flourish. The public imagination was fired by the irrepressible talent of Virender Sehwag, whose lethal strikes became a nightmare for bowlers across the world.

In 2011, MS Dhoni, a lower middleclass boy from Ranchi, led India to its second World Cup victory. He had announced his arrival by leading India to the first T20 World Cup title in South Africa.

Cricket also saw a revolution of sorts, with a corporate-driven club league called the Indian Premier League which doled out unheard of sums to Indian and international players for a two-month extravaganza of T20 cricket. Its popularity and controversies have divided the cricket world as never before and it won't be out of place to say that IPL will impact world cricket in the coming decade as no other event has ever done before.

Pradeep Magazine is a senior sports journalist and Advisor, Sports, Hindustan Times

From HT Brunch, February 23

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First Published: Feb 21, 2014 18:31 IST