OLYMPICS: A podium of fire

OLYMPICS: A podium of fire

With the tricolour flying high and the national anthem reverberating in the Olympics village, India concluded its Olympics run with the highest ever medal tally and mixed feelings. Tokyo 2021 has been unique in almost every aspect. Organized in an odd year for the first time, the Olympic games this year had a unique order of nations following Japan's writing system with two flag bearers, one male and one female athlete representing each country. Karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing got their Olympic debuts, and hydrogen replaced propane in the Olympic cauldron for its environment-friendly nature. Not only that, even the medals had their own story to tell. The precious metals for medals were extracted from recycled consumer electronics over the past two years across Japan. A total of 78,985 tons of discarded devices were collected, a haul which included approximately 6.21 million used mobile phones, along with digital cameras, handheld games, and laptops, all of which were then classified, dismantled, and melted down by highly trained contractors. For the first time, a country's citizens have been proactively involved in donating the electronic devices used to make the medals.

INDIA IN TOKYO 2021

 
 

With a total of 126 athletes across 18 sports disciplines, India had sent its biggest-ever contingent to the Tokyo Olympics. Indian athletes participated in 69 cumulative events across, the highest ever for the country.

 

 
 

 

Indian Medal Tally

Neeraj Chopra a Junior Commission Officer in the Indian army won Gold Medal in Javelin Throw by performing an astonishing throw of 86.58 meters. Ravi Kumar Dahiya won Silver Medal in Freestyle wrestling 57 kg. Mirabai Chanu won Silver Medal in Weight Lifting 49 kg, Women, with the final score of 202, in snatch she lifted 87 kg and in clean and jerk 115 kg. PV Sindhu won the Bronze Medal in Women’s Singles Badminton.PV Sindhu became the first Indian female athlete to win 2 medals in the Olympic games. Lovlina Borgohain won Bronze Medal in Women’s Welterweight Boxing. The Indian Hockey Team won the Bronze Medal. Bajrang Punia won Bronze Medal in Wrestling 65 Kg.

 

With the world no.1 Australian tennis player Ashleigh Barty packing her bags after the first rounds and Lament Marcell Jacobs surprising everyone with double gold for Italy, Tokyo 2020 was a roller coaster that had everyone clutching to their seats. While numerous athletes created history, many more had to go home with big upsets. Medals and heartbreaks apart, the performance and the sportsmanship of these players will inspire generations to come.

Indian golfer Aditi Ashok, ranked 200th in the world, went to Tokyo Olympics without any expectations. She performed spectacularly, but after a rain shower had interrupted the round, she missed a birdie by a whisker and finished fourth in the women's stroke play event.

"During the first round, when I was stepping on the stage, I saw the Olympic rings, and it sunk in that I was here. I have been dreaming of playing on that Olympics stage for too long each time I go to sleep. "said an emotional Bhavna Devi who created history as the first Indian to compete in fencing.

Missing the medal by a narrow margin at the Olympics is perhaps the most heartbreaking experience for any athlete. India had its fair share of athletes who performed brilliantly but lost medals by a whisker.

 

The women's hockey team led by Rani Rampal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics delivered their team's best-ever performance at the Olympic Games by becoming the first Indian women's team to reach the semi-finals in hockey. Ranked ninth at the start of the tournament, India punched way above its weight. It reached the semi-final by stunning favourites Australia in the quarter-final after just about edging into the knockout stages. However, another narrow loss against Great Britain in the bronze medal match followed a defeat to close Argentina in the semi-final. It was, however, an inspirational campaign as the team repeatedly punched above their collective weight.

THE SHOOTING DEBACLE

Manu Bhaker suffered a circuit malfunction in her pistol during the 10m Air Pistol Women's Qualification round. The teenager had to get her pistol fixed and was unable to shoot for close to 5 minutes. Manu scored 575 while she needed 577 despite her pistol malfunction.

Manu-Saurabh The mixed pair of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary in 10m Air Pistol was hailed as one of the brightest prospects to win an Olympic medal for India. The World No.1 duo have five world cup golds attached to their name and therefore was expected to end up amongst the top finishers in the game. Sadly, things didn't go as per plan, and they faltered in Stage 2 of qualification after topping the group in Stage 1. A low score by Manu resulted in an overall loss for the team leading to their exit from the Olympics.

 

AN ARROW OFF THE MARK

Deepika Kumari could not earn India an elusive Olympic medal, but the most decorated Indian archer became the first Indian to make the individual quarters.

But the silver lining came from debutant Pravin Jadhav, the son of a wage labourer from the drought-hit Satara district of Maharashtra.

Not only the 25-year-old topped among the Indians in the ranking round, but the Army archer also showed fine shooting before going down to world number one, Brady Ellison, in round two.

Atanu Das stunned everyone when he knocked out former Olympic and world champion Oh Jin Hayek to make pre-quarterfinals for a second successive time in the Games but only to lose to five-time Olympic veteran Takaharu Furukawa.

The biggest letdown was the power archery couple, Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das. They were not able to overcome the pressure despite having the experience of five Olympics in between them. Fresh from winning five World Cup gold medals this year, Deepika was a big letdown.

 

ONE STEP BACK, TWO STEPS FORWARD

Citing her mental health, Simone Biles withdrew from the gymnastics event, which shocked the entire world. While some criticized this move, a vast majority came out in support of her. Referred to as the G.O.A.T., the defending champion ended her journey at the Tokyo Olympics. U.S. gymnastics team were heavy favourites to win the straight third Olympics gold but were only able to grab the silver medal position after a not-so-expected performance by Simone Biles.

WHY DOESN’T INDIA PERFORM WELL AT THE OLYMPICS?

There is no doubt that India has sporting talent, so why does it fail to translate this into Olympic success?

Studies suggest that the total population is meaningless when it comes to medals. What matters is the proportion that participates effectively.

Olympians are drawn, not from the entire population of a country, but only from the share that is effectively participating. Low medal tallies can arise both because a country has very few people and because very few of its people effectively participate.

This population is determined by several factors like education, health, and connectivity. In other words, an unhealthy individual is unlikely to participate in sports, an educated individual is likely to be more ambitious, and school attendance increases the chance that talent will be spotted and developed; in terms of public information, an individual can only aspire to be an Olympic athlete if they have heard about the Olympics via the media; and where there is little 'physical connectedness' in remote, isolated villages, many sporting jewels may go undiscovered. In rural India, where life expectancy and primary school enrolment are below the world average and where there is more limited access to the outside world both physically and communication-wise, much of the effective participating population is lost.

The 2011 Indian Census tells us that the urban population in India is over 370 million people, the equivalent of the U.S.A. and Russia combined. That is still a massive pool of talent and is becoming wealthier at a faster rate than almost anywhere else on Earth. So the question remains: why the lack of medals?

India was never a sports nation. Academics have always taken the front seat in any Indian household, while sports have been considered activities just for recreational purposes. Sports was never a priority for a majority of parents and their kids. This is aptly shown by the phrase "Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab" which means that your life will be a waste if you play, but if you study or do well in academics, you will be a king."

With the emphasis on academic rather than physical education, although we have the best of the academic schools and universities, we do not have good sports facilities and good sports academics. We do not have well-maintained playgrounds; equipment is not available, and if it is, then it is not in good condition, no proper support staff, no athlete-friendly sports policies.

Corruption, favouritism, apathy, and bad management in sports' governing bodies are major turnoffs for the young players and they have to be taken into account as seriously as the infrastructure or any other factor.

With cricket taking up all the space, the other sports have to take a back seat. This affects the enthusiasm of the population towards the other sports. Is that the reality? Yes. Is that fair? No. For, sportspersons with dazzling achievements – be it Abhinav Bindra in shooting or the legendary tennis duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi – are accustomed to getting eclipsed in a cricket-obsessed India. Vishwanathan Anand might be among the best chess players in the modern era. He is as big if not a bigger, achiever than Tendulkar. But, with cricketers hogging all the media space, Anand's fame in many countries exceeds his recognition in India.

What makes cricket a great success story is that the game has been managed and marketed very well compared to others despite its ups and downs. The media has been kind to it, but media houses being businesses understand what sells and what doesn't. Such is the nation's focus on the game that insignificant matches get space on some channel or the other. In contrast, even the biggest tournaments for other sports are given minimal attention, and that too is only when the success is translated into medals and glory.

We are still in the developing phase. Young Indians are given opportunities, but the facilities and opportunities are not enough. We still have to improve a lot. Things are definitely changing now and are changing for the better.

AN UNBEARABLE TRIAL

The pressure factor plays a significant role in the athlete's performance. 1.3 billion people scrutinizing a person becomes too much to bear for some athletes, as was the case for the archers.

"When we win the World Cup, no one knows. When we win the world championship, no one knows. When we get to world No. 1, nobody knows," Atanu Das said. "But Indians are in the Olympics; then everyone knows everything."

"This is the pressure inside your head all the time," he added.

 

Tons of messages of disappointment. But many are angry. Just plain angry. And it is hard to understand why. Be critical, yes. Be disappointed, yes. But angry? Where does this anger coming from?

"Mentally weak," "Nervous," "Not good enough," "Age is not an excuse" — it went on. It still goes on. Part of it might be down to the great expectations. The Indian shooting squad has been consistently winning medals in international competitions for a while now, and the size of the team is bigger than it has ever been before. So the heightened expectations combined with the drought of medals at Rio 2016 means that the people want nothing less than a podium spot. You fail, and you will be damned.

Do we think our reactions will make them better? Does it show how passionate we are about sport? Or is it because we believe they are defenseless?

The reactions are extreme because we don't know; we don't know the sports; we don't know because we haven't followed the marks for the four years between the Olympics, but that doesn't matter. It's okay to pile on. What many conveniently forget is that each of these athletes has to qualify for the Olympics. Not everyone gets there. Some spend their whole lives trying but still don't get there. So no one is there to take a walk in the park or to enjoy the atmosphere. They are there to win, and when they don't, it hurts them the most.

Some argue that a lot of government money is spent on these athletes. Government money equals taxpayer money equals our cash. But is India the only country that spends money on its athletes? No. Others spend even bigger money. And as things go, the bigger the money spent, the better the returns.

An Olympic medal won by Great Britain at the London 2012 Games cost them an average of just over £4.5 million.

Every year, the United States Olympics Committee gives out about $50 million to more than 40 national sports federations to help athletes in their medal quest.

China has a state-funded approach. In 2016, China's General Administration of Sports received $651 million (4.5 billion yuan) in government funding, an uptick of 45% from 2011.

Australia, which has a track record of performing well at the Summer Olympics, earmarked just $272 million for its own sports commission in 2016.

India's spend is minuscule by comparison — in fact, the government cut the sports budget by Rs 230.78 crore in the Olympic year.

We also live in the age of instant gratification, and perhaps that is why the importance of building brick by brick is lost on many. The top countries have been spending big money for a long time. India still lacks infrastructure, and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme program is very athlete-focused and has just come into being. It also doesn't help our sports ministers keep making random predictions ('India will be among top 10 by 2028 Olympics,' predicted the ex-sports minister Kiren Rijiju in September 2020).

But despite all that, nothing justifies the anger. To put it bluntly, the offense doesn't help. If the athletes weren't nervous earlier, they would now be after seeing the reaction to failure. It's not easy. It's not easy at all. It's not easy for the first-timers, and it isn't easy for champions either.

If you wanted further justification, just look at four-time Olympic gold medallist and world champion Simone Biles after pulling out from the team event in artistic gymnastics at Tokyo 2020.

"At the end of the day, I have to do what's right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and my wellbeing," she said. "I just think mental health is more prevalent now in sports, and it's not just like we have to set everything aside. We also have to focus on ourselves.

Biles added: "Because at the end of the day, we're human too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do."

The pressure affects everyone. Some fall, some don't. But if we, as a nation, react with anger each time one of our athletes fails, we are sending the message that none of their efforts matter unless they bring glory. we should get emotional but we need to understand at the end of the day, it's just a game.

OLYMPICS: A BOON OR BANE?

Source: International Olympic Committee ( IOC )

The Olympics increase tourism which boosts local economies. It increases the host country's global trade and stature and creates a sense of national pride. But on the flip side, the Olympics are a financial drain on the host cities. They force these countries to create an expensive infrastructure that eventually falls into disuse. They also displace and burden the residents of the host country and city.

The 1976 Olympics in Montreal

At the time of the event, Montreal was undergoing a dramatic surge in terms of its global profile. In conjunction with the Expo '67 World Fair, which was held to celebrate the nation's centenary, the Games helped to transform the city into a world-renowned location. The governing body soon ran into the familiar budgetary issues, as their estimated costs of $360 million fell drastically short of the final $1.6 billion bill.

The Montreal Games ended up leaving a 30-year legacy of debt and financial disaster for the city, the decaying, custom-built venues remaining a forlorn eyesore for decades.

The 2004 Olympics in Athens

Some economists trace the beginning of Greece's ongoing economic woes to the Olympic Games held in Athens in 2004. The event stands as the embodiment of excess and irresponsible spending. To begin with, the total cost – an estimated $15 billion – far surpassed the original budgeted amount, though to be fair, the overrun was due in part to additional security costs incurred in the aftermath of 9/11. While this is an understandable expense, building unnecessary and ill-conceived, permanent sporting venues was extremely difficult to comprehend. A number of these venues remain idle to this day. This lack of foresight and planning left the nation with a shortfall of 50,000 euros per Greek household, which has been shared among the taxpayers ever since.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

Organized amidst the Zika virus outbreak, the 2016 Olympics cost the Brazilian government approximately $13.1 billion to host ($3.5 billion over budget), plus an additional $8.2 billion in infrastructure upgrades and renovations paid for with a mix of public and private money.

Japan won the 2020 games by bidding $12 billion, beating rival Italy to win the hosting spot. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the Spring of 2020, and the decision was made to postpone the Olympics to the summer of 2021. The postponement added $2.8 billion to the total cost, which is estimated to be a total of over $15 billion--the most expensive Olympics ever held. The economic outcome of Tokyo 2020 though unclear till now, looks quite grim.

CONCLUSION

Despite all these odds Olympics continues to be the biggest spectacle in the sporting arena, with sportsmanship, unity, and spirit keeping its flames alive. The road is long but not an impossible destination to arrive at. If we accept the changes and grow at a steady pace, the upbeat narrative will keep ongoing.

Design Credits:- ASHIT KUMAR SAHU

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