Now, the race to London
It was quite the gold rush for India as the curtain came down on the 16th Asian Games. With 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze medals, Indian sports is shining as never before. We may not have got within shouting distance of China, which won 199 golds, but we really seemed to have stopped faltering at the hurdles. India's finished sixth in the medals tally this year, a leap of two places ahead compared to the Doha Games in 2006. This has given enough confidence to our athletes to do well on the ultimate sporting stage — the Olympics in London in 2012. The mental blocks are gone and it's also an opportunity for the officials to work harder. Perhaps, the time is right for the government to sit up and assess what it's done right.
It's still debatable whether hosting a mega event sparked this sporting revolution. But one thing is clear, there has been a sea change in the training regimen of our athletes, something set in motion after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The sports ministry was allocated Rs678 crore to spend on training for the Commonwealth Games. Compared to the earlier Rs30-40 crore-a-year budget, this is a huge improvement. A core group of athletes was formed and each individual given specific training. Out of the Rs678 crore, Rs85 crore was spent on renovation and Rs218 crore on sports science and back-up facilities. Going abroad and participating against the best in the business moved from being a mere ritual to regular serious combat scenarios to assess where one was going wrong. Along with exposure came confidence, and along with confidence, belief.
In two years, the results are there to see. Take the example of the boxers. For the sport, this Games has been a revelation. In 2006, our boxers managed just one bronze (Vijender Singh). This time the men won a record two gold, three silver and two bronze medals. For a federation that had to take loans to send boxers for training and exposure trips four years ago, this was no mean task. Led by some able officials, it introduced modern techniques so that emphasis was laid on winning points. The federation no longer needs to borrow from banks. Sponsors have started showing interest. So too with shooting after Abhinav Bindra won the gold in Beijing. Wrestling, where Sushil Kumar won a bronze in the Olympics, started getting corporate support. Corporate houses are now looking beyond cricket, golf and tennis. To say that we are moving towards our objective of becoming a sporting nation may be a little premature. But one thing is clear: with the right resources and training, we are definitely contenders in the race. And ready to roll in the London Olympics.
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