The Indian players not just recorded their best-ever haul with seven medals including a historic gold medal at Tokyo Olympics, they also won a billion hearts by their stellar play as well as several firsts in different events. With it, the country sees a glint of silver lining to better its players’ performance at the world’s top Games in days to come, reports RAJESH MOUDGIL
With the stellar wins at the Tokyo Olympics, India has recorded its best-ever haul – seven medals — one gold, two silver and four bronze medals. Until now, the country had its best haul of six medals at the 2012 Olympics at London — two silver and four bronze.
This Olympics, the historic victory has come with Neeraj Chopra’s golden javelin throw.Neeraj, 23, hailing from rural interiors of Panipat in Haryana, is the first athlete from India to win an Olympic gold medal in a track-and-field discipline and second Indian to win an individual gold medal in Olympics. While Abhinav Bindra had won gold in 2008 Olympics in shooting, it is Neeraj who has clinched the gold medal in javelin throw with a best throw of 87.58 m this Olympics.
The newly-crowned medallist Neeraj, in a heart-warming gesture, also dedicated the gold to sprint legend Milkha Singh who died of Covid-19 in June. Neeraj said that Milkha Singh wanted to hear the National Anthem for the athletics at the Olympic stadium. He is no longer with us but his dream has been fulfilled, he said dedicating the gold medal to a legendary sprinter who had finished fourth at the 1960 Olympics.
It is the 10th time that an Indian player has notched the top medal at Olympics; the Indian hockey team has won gold eight times, Bindra was the ninth such winner in 2008 and now Chopra, the 10th such achiever.
Notably, while Neeraj made his debut at the Olympics in Tokyo, Bindra won his gold medal in his third go. Bindra had first played at Olympics in 2000 and broke the record by his qualification to the 2004 Olympics.
The ace shutter P V Sindhu also became the only Indian player apart from Sushil to have won two Olympic medals. She had reached the women’s singles badminton final at Rio Olympics in 2016 where she lost to Spain’s Carolina Marin and thus won a silver medal. She won the bronze at the Olympics in Tokyo.
Wrestler Sushil Kumar, the two-time Olympic medalist, had come closest among Indian wrestlers to win a gold medal when he had reached the final of the 2012 London Olympics but had to settle for a silver medal, becoming the first individual Indian athlete to win two Olympic medals, first being in 2008 when he won a bronze.
AND OTHER STARS ARE
All the seven star Indian players who have bagged the medals this time are Neeraj Chopra, Mirabai Chanu, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Lovlina Borgohain, P V Sindhu, Bajrang Punia and the men’s hockey team.
The first medal came in weightlifting, in which Mirabai Chanu clinched silver, while Lovlina Borgohain won the second medal in boxing — a bronze. P V Sindhu also won bronze in the women’s singles badminton event.
While Ravi Kumar Dahiya, a bronze medalist from 2019 world wrestling championships and a two-time Asian champion, won a silver medal this Olympics, Bajrang Punia, clinched a bronze medal in wrestling. He is the country’s only wrestler to have won three medals at the world wrestling championships.
Among other promising players, golfer Aditi Ashok missed the medal narrowly when she finished fourth. She ranked 41 in the Olympics of 2016.
The promising discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur also finished sixth despite her confident opening. Her grit and dedication were also lauded by the country as hers has remained best throw by an Indian woman at Olympics — 63.70 m. Likewise, shooter Saurabh Chaudhary also finished seventh in the men’s 10m air pistol final, which earned him kudos.
Meanwhile, India also made several firsts in this Olympics. It was the first time that a fencer from India, Bhavani Devi, and female sailor Nethra Kumanan qualified for the Olympics. Likewise, swimmers Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj were also the first from the country to qualify at the Olympics.
It was the country’s biggest-ever contingent to this Olympics with as many as 126 athletes from across 18 sports disciplines.
The brilliant performance of the country’s men’s and women’s hockey teams were hugely hailed by the hockey fans who applauded the teams for never giving up consistency throughout their consistent drives to score and overcome their rival teams. Though the women’s hockey team finished fourth, the men’s won a bronze.
President Ram Nath Kovind said the country’s women’s hockey team excelled on the field and won the hearts of every citizen of the country with a stellar performance. “We are proud of you all,” said the President.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to praise the team’s brave performance. “We narrowly missed a medal in Women’s Hockey but this team reflects the spirit of New India- where we give our best and scale new frontiers. More importantly, their success at #Tokyo2020 will motivate young daughters of India to take up Hockey and excel in it. Proud of this team,” he wrote on Twitter.
A large number of other celebrities and Bollywood actors also hailed the team’s efforts exhorting them to hold your heads up high for the magnificent effort and inspiring youngsters for the sports.
Both the teams reached the last four at the Olympics and marked the much-awaited revival of hockey in India.
It is pertinent to mention here that hockey got support from the Odisha government which set a unique example of sponsoring the national teams. The state government took care of the game as well as players and gave the players exposure of premium hockey events such as world cup, world league and Olympic qualifier by hosting them.
The country thus also ended its 41-year-long wait for an Olympic medal in hockey with the men’s team notching the bronze medal defeating Germany 5-4. This was India’s third bronze and 12th hockey medal at the Olympics.
Even as the men’s team rewrote history, the Indian women’s team strove to further enhance the national pride, though could not make it.
The country had won golds in eight Olympics — in 1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1980 — one silver in 1960 and three bronze — 1968, 1972 and this time in 2021.
The men’s team had: Dilpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Surender Kumar, Manpreet Singh (Captain), Hardik Singh, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Harmanpreet Singh
PR Sreejesh (Goalkeeper), Sumit Kumar, Nilakanta Sharma, Shamsher Singh, Varun Kumar, Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas and Vivek Sagar Prasad. Graham Reid is the team’s head coach.
The women’s 16-member squad had Rani Rampal, Savita, Deep Grace Ekka, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Nikki Pradhan, Navjot Kaur and Vandana Katariya — who also represented the Indian women’s team at the 2016 Rio Olympic, while the eight Olympic debutants include Gurjit Kaur, Udita, Nisha, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Sharmila Devi, Lalremsiami. It has Sjoerd Marijne as its chief coach.
The women’s team may not have bagged a medal, but they made a history for their first Olympic semi-final. And since most of them came from humble backgrounds their fight against adversities would inspire the country for all the times to come.
Rani Rampal came from a humble background as her father ran a horse-cart for livelihood even as the entire village discouraged the family from taking up a game in which girls would wear a short skirt. Vandana too was discouraged to play hockey as it would be unbecoming of a girl. Neha had a disturbed childhood because of an alcoholic father. Nisha’s mother worked at a factory to earn for the family as Nisha’s father had suffered a paralytic attack about six years ago. Nikki, who hailed from tribal belt of Jharkhand herself worked at paddy fields and initially played with borrowed and broken sticks.
The historic medallist saw kudos coming instantly from the country’s top leadership, celebrities as well as millions of common sports buffs.
Praising Neeraj, Prime minister Narendra Modi said that the javelin throw gold medalist had scripted history by winning for India its first gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and thereby ending the country’s over-a-century old wait for a medal in athletics. Modi took to his official twitter handle and highlighted his performance and credited it all to his remarkable passion and unparalleled show of grit. Modi also had a conversation with the Olympic champion after his victory, to which he said that he personified the best of sporting talent and sportsman spirit.
President of India Ram Nath Kovind also expressed how proud the country was of Neeraj’s win. Lauding the gold medalist, the President tweeted: “Your javelin gold breaks barriers and creates history. You bring home the first-ever track and field medal to India in your first Olympics. Your feat will inspire our youth. India is elated!”
The Vice President Venkaiah Naidu who termed Neeraj’s performance “incredible”, said his outstanding feat ended a long wait by India for an Olympic medal in athletics.
Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur congratulated javelin thrower Neeraj for his outstanding performance and called it a historic win and a great achievement. Neeraj has not only brought the medal for India but great hope for upcoming generations to play sports and win more medals, Thakur said.
There was an unending river of praises from the Congress leaders as well. Rahul Gandhi lauded Neeraj and said he has made all Indians proud. ‘’Neeraj Chopra take a bow! A billion hearts beat for you today and each one of us couldn’t be more proud,” Rahul Gandhi said on Instagram. He also congratulated wrestler Bajrang Punia for winning the bronze medal. Kudos also came from Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram.
Heart-warming praises also came from the celebrities while the ones from the former cricketer Virender Sehwag’s tweet captured one’s attention.
“Goosebumps. An India test match going on & the way we were glued to our screens to cheer for Kamalpreet, Ravi, Bajrang, Sindhu & #NeerajChopra today, this @Olympics marks a paradigm shift in interest towards other sports, in these few moments truly felt Cricket gaya tel lene,” he tweeted.
Saluting discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur, he tweeted that he has become Kaur’s fan and even though the latter could not manage a podium finish on this occasion. He lauded here “wonderful effort”. Also, the former opening batsman Sehwag thanked Kamalpreet Kaur for ensuring that thousands of people were interested in the discus throw and concluded by saying that she will soon get medals.
THE SILVER LINING
Since most of the players came from rural and humble backgrounds and fought the poverty, adversities and overcame them, what is being seen as the writing on the wall is — the country has potential to do better and that rural India has plethora of talent and in many sports and ways, outperform urban players.
Haryana sports minister Sandeep Singh, himself an Olympian hockey player who had captained the hockey team in 2012 Olympics says this medal tally has triggered a “fit India movement” and our pro-sports approach, which encourages the players, and this would definitely enhance our medal tally at next Olympics in 2024.
The government is working to have more coaches at state level besides taking “khelo India” movement to grass-root level, he told the media.
Haryana home minister Anil Vij, in whose tenure as sports minister in 2014-2019, the state government had brought a highly incentivised sports policy and steep hikes in the reward money and higher jobs, also stresses the need to focus on rural pockets to improve medals tally.
“Haryana alone has huge talent in different sports and that it can do wonders. Need is to focus on talent in rural pockets and improve overall sports infrastructure,” he says.
It was during his tenure as sports minister that the state had a sports university at Rai, Sonepat and prize money was hiked from 5 crore to 6 crore for gold, from 3 crore to 4 crore for silver and 2.5 crore to 3 crore for bronze medal in Olympics.
Wrestler Yosheshwar Dutt, the 2012 Olympics bronze medalist stresses the need to focus more on village level players. “One can see in the Tokyo Olympics list that most of the medalists are from villages. Hence, there is a need to further improve facilities at village level sports centres and have good coaches and better facilities such as sports medical doctors at the training centres”, he adds.
Hailing the medal tally, Dronacharya awardee Dr Sunil Dabas says she as a part of a panel had given an assessment report on all the 78 academies (training centres) of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) across the country. She said she found that some of these centres lacked scientific support — such as psychological, physio-therapical and bio-mechanical support — for the players.
Hailing the fact that most of the players came from rural and humble background, she said if given proper backup as mentioned above the players can improve their game significantly as they at tend to make minor mistakes of being over confidence or in attacking techniques or get under pressure but could easily overcome them with little support through trainings.
“Good coaches, physio-therapist and scientific support system at every training session would do wonders. Also, it is a welcome step that the state government has decided to set up a centre of excellence at Panchkula, there should be at least four more such centres pan Haryana for all the games. It would also be better if the state government set up centres for games India players are good at in Asian Games and Olympics”, she adds.
GOLD — NEERAJ CHOPRA (men’s javelin throw)
SILVER — MIRABAI CHANU (weightlifting: women’s 49 kg )
SILVER — RAVI KUMAR DAHIYA (wrestling: men’s 57 kg freestyle)
BRONZE — LOVLINA BORGOHAIN (boxing: women’s welterweight)
BRONZE — PV SINDHU (badminton: women’s singles)
BRONZE — MEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
BRONZE — BAJRANG PUNIA (wrestling: men’s 65 kg freestyle)
HARYANA, PUNJAB RAIN REWARDS
Back home, while all the top leaders hailed the wins and performances of Indian teams, Haryana and Punjab which had the most of medal winners rained rewards.
Out of 120 players who participated in the Olympics 30 were from Haryana.
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced cash rewards of 6 crore and 2.5 crore for the gold and bronze medal winners, respectively.
Apart from a cash reward of 6 crore, the state government had decided to offer the position of head at centre of excellence for athletics to be constructed in Panchkula to javelin throw gold medalist Neeraj Chopra under the provision of giving government job as per state’s sports policy, announced Khattar.
He said that wrestler Bajrang Punia would be given a cash reward of 2.5 crore for winning bronze. He would also be given a government job as per the provision made in the state’s sports policy, said the chief minister.
He further announced that both Neeraj Chopra and Bajrang Punia would also be provided a plot of Haryana Shahri Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP) at concessional rates.
To encourage the young and budding players hailing from Bajrang Punia’s village Khudan, district Jhajjar, a wrestling indoor stadium with modern world-class facilities would be constructed by the state government, Khattar added.
On women’s team performance, Khattar tweeted that the state government would award 50 lakhs each to the nine members of the Olympics women’s hockey team who are from Haryana. “I congratulate the Indian team for their praiseworthy performance at the Tokyo Olympics”, he added.
PB TO GIVE 2 Cr TO NEERAJ
The Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has also announced a special cash reward of 2 crore for Neeraj Chopra for his award winning 87.58 metres javelin throw in Tokyo.
The chief minister said it was a proud moment for India and all Punjabis, since the family of Neeraj, a serving soldier of Indian Army, traces its roots to Punjab.
Notably, Neeraj practiced most of the time at National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala. Neeraj studied at DAV College, Chandigarh and had joined the Indian army (4 Raj Rif) in 2016.
1 Cr EACH TO HOCKEY PLAYERS
Punjab chief minister also congratulated the Indian men’s hockey team for defeating Germany. He said that remarkable victory of India against Germany is surely an outcome of collective team efforts but however it is also a matter of sheer honour and pride for Punjab as 11 players including captain Manpreet Singh, vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh besides Rupinderpal Singh, Mandeep Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Hardik Singh, Simranjit Singh, Gurjant Singh, Varun Kumar and Krishan Pathak are from Punjab.
Capt Amarinder Singh further said that other members of the team especially the Indian goal keeper P R Sreejesh also made a superb contribution for this prestigious honour in clinching bronze medal for the country.
The Punjab sports minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi also announced 1 crore each to the players of the team. Sodhi said he was immensely proud of the entire Indian hockey team’s performance in the Tokyo Olympics. It is time to enjoy and celebrate the historic bronze. As sports minister of Punjab it is my duty and matter of pride to promote, encourage the national sport and motivate flag-bearers, Sodhi said in a tweet.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a cash award of 1 crore each for players from the state. “Hockey players Vivek Sagar and Nilakantha Sharma who were trained in Madhya Pradesh would be awarded 1 crore each for their performance in the Olympics at Tokyo,” Shivraj Singh Chouhan said.
THEY CAME, THEY PLAYED, THEY CONQUERED
INDIA DID what very few had expected them to do. Boys in blue not only brought a bronze for the country but put a slap on the face of those who had started writing the obituary of Indian hockey. Not only boys but girls playing only in third Olympics routed team like Australia to make a place in Semifinals. What a game these girls played! A report by Manmohan Singh
India was gasping for a medal in hockey for the last 41 years. Hockey is a game which we ruled for decades. From Amsterdam (1928) to Melbourne (1956) we won six gold medals at a trot. This glory was lost in Rome (1960) where Pakistan beat us 1-0 by goal scored by Naseer Bunda. A gloom was descended on whole country. It was the question of national pride. We again lost to Pakistan 1962 Jakarta Asian games. Many were disappointed but 1964 India regained its lost glory. Team under ace centre half Charanjit Singh dethroned Pakistan 1-0 to win gold again. This all important goal was scored by Mohinder Lal.
There after it is a story of decline of Indian hockey. We lost the very first league match against New Zealand 1-2 in Maxico Olympics (1968) and again semifinal to Australia. There, for the first time India came back with bronze. The same story was repeated at Munich (1972).
An era of artificial turf began at Montreal (1976) and the debacle of Indian hockey started at full speed. There we lost badly to Australia and finished seventh. It was the time when our team came without medal. But Indian hockey fans took a sigh of relief when we again won gold at Moscow by beating Spain 4-3. But Moscow was the olympic which maximum hockey playing nations had boycotted. Only six teams played on round robin bases and final was played between two top teams India and Spain. India won this clif hanger in the last minutes.
Four year later at Los Angeles we could not reach semifinal and finish fifth. It scripted the saga of our continuous decline. We finished sixth at Seoul (1988), seventh at Barcelona (1992), eighth at Atlanta (1996), seventh at Sydney (2000). This was the olympic in which we could reach in Semifinals had we not conceded the equaliser in last 10 seconds to Poland. In Athens (2004) we managed 07th spot. In 2008 we touched the nadir and first time in the history of olympic hockey failed to qualify for the event.
We came back in olympic games at London (2012) and finished last. At Rio our potion was 08th. Now we are on come back trail. Third place at Tokyo is a testimony .
Girls also showed their class. After losing first three encounters they fought back bravely and beat Ireland 1-0, South Africa 4-3.
They changed the scenario in quarter-final when they stunned hockey world by defeating Australia 1-0. In the semifinal too they gave fright to Great Britain by neutralising their two goal lead and pumping one more. But the gold medal winner of the Rio Olympics scored two magnificent goals two wrap up the match. Indian girls playing only their thirdOlympic won the hearts of million fans.
Indian men and women both have shown the world that they are on the path of resurrection. Paris Olympics are only three years away this is the time when we should work on our weaknesses and shortcomings. Sreejesh reminds us the great goalkeeper Shankar Laxman who played pivot role at Tokyo (1964) and India could win due his saves in goal. Even Savita Poonia was not behind any world class custodian. India has hit the launchpad. Now sky is the limit.