India’s results in the recent Asian Games call for as much celebration as contemplation
A top Hollywood film producer by the name of Robert Evans once famously said: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine and the truth. As the 18th edition of the quadrennial Asian Games, or Asiad, held this time in Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, came to a colourful and successful conclusion, India’s story was no different.
The government and one section of the national media focused on the positive side. After all, with a total of 69 medals this year, Team India had broken their previous record tally of 65 medals earned at the 2010 edition of Asiad in China.
There were indeed several firsts this year for India. Medals in wushu, rowing, kurash, sepaktakraw, equestrian and bridge – sports that are virtually unheard of in this country – were as surprising as they were encouraging.
As was the case with past Games, athletics brought a huge haul of medals. India claimed a tally of 7 gold, 10 silver and 2 bronze medals from athletics at this year’s Asiad. Indian athletes recorded their best tally at the continental extravaganza since the inaugural edition in 1951.
India’s best ever performance in Asian Games athletics had come at the inaugural edition in 1951 when they hosted the event in New Delhi. That year, Indian athletes had clinched 10 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze. Indian athletes had won seven gold medals at the 2002 edition as well, but had only managed a total of 17 medals, two less than this year.
Indian athletes were third best after global powerhouse China and Bahrain. The Chinese took home 12 gold, and equal number of silver and nine bronze medals for a total of 33 medals. Bahrain, powered by their Africa-born athletes, also won 12 gold, along with six silver and seven bronze medals.
Arpinder Singh ended India’s 48-year wait for a gold medal in men’s triple jump with an effort of 16.77 metres in the final. Before the 25-year-old Arpinder, the previous champion was Mohinder Singh Gill in 1970 with an effort of 16.11m.
Swapna Barman also created history by winning the women’s heptathlon title. Swapna’s triumph in the women’s heptathlon is the first ever gold for India in the event at the Asiad. Swapna posted a score of 6026 points. Purnima Hembram, the other Indian in the fray, finished fourth with 5837 points.
In men’s javelin, reigning Asian champion Neeraj Chopra created a new national record on his way to the gold medal. Neeraj threw 88.06 metres in his third attempt to clinch gold. Neeraj’s gold is India’s second medal in the event in Asiad history. Gurtej Singh had taken a bronze at the 1982 edition in New Delhi.
Manjit Singh and Jinson Johnson claimed the gold and silver medals respectively in the men’s 800m. Manjit finished first with a timing of one minute and 46.15 seconds. Jinson was 0.20 seconds behind his compatriot Johnson clocked 3 minutes and 44.72 seconds to take the yellow medal in the men’s 1,500m, while Manjit came fourth with 3:46.57.
In the women’s 4X400m event, the Indian quartet of Hima Das, Raju Poovamma, Saritaben Laxmanbhai Gayakwad and Vismaya Koroth registered a time of 3:28.72 to finish at the top of the podium.
In the men’s 4X400m relay, the Indian quartet of Muhammed Kunhu, Dharun Ayyasamy, Muhammed Anas and Rajiv Arokia clocked a time of 3:1.85 to finish second.
Experienced sprinter Dutee Chand clinched two silver medals in the 100m and 200m. Dutee clocked 23.20 seconds to finish second in the 200m race, while in the 100m, she timed 11.32 seconds as she became the first Indian woman after P.T. Usha (in 1986) to get two sprint medals in a single edition of the quadrennial continental Games.
The shooters, as usual, won a bagful of medals with a tally of two gold, four silver and three bronze. Teenagers Saurabh Chaudhary and Shardul Vihan showed immense promise for the future with a gold and silver respectively. Rahi Sarnobatgot the other Indian gold in the women’s 25 metre pistol event.
This edition of the Asiad has showcased the considerable progress Indian rowers have made at the international level.
The men’s quadruple sculls team of Sawarn Singh, Dattu Bhokanal, Om Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh added the golden touch to India’s best ever haul of three medals which include two bronze in the men’s lightweight single sculls and men’s lightweight double sculls categories.
The Indian quadruple sculls team clocked a time of 6 minutes and 17.13 seconds while hosts Indonesia clocked 6:20.58 to take the silver. Thailand had to be content with the bronze at 6:22.41.
This was only the second gold for India since they started participating in the rowing events at the Asiad. The first was won by Bajrang Lal Takhar in men’s singles sculls at the 2010 Games.
ON A HIGH
India’s squash contingent returned home with a total of five medals for the first time since the sport became part of the Asian Games programme in 1998. In the previous edition, India’s squash team scaled the previous highest tally of four medals.
In Jakarta, Saurav Ghosal, Dipika and Joshana got a bronze medal each in the singles competitions. Then the men’s team took a bronze and the women’s side bagged a silver. The women’s team got a bronze in 2010.
The wushu players also produced their best ever medal haul at the Asian Games with four bronze medals in the wushu sanda competition. Three medals came from the men’s competition as Santosh Kumar (56 kiloram), Surya Bhanu Pratap Singh (60kg) and Narender Grewal (65kg). Naorem Roshibina Devi took a bronze in the women’s 60kg category.
In kurash, a form of traditional central Asian wrestling, India’s Pincky Balhara clinched silver, while Malaprabha Jadav settled for bronze in the women’s 52 kilogram category.
India got its first-ever medal in sepaktakraw as it settled for a bronze medal after losing to Thailand in the semi-finals of the men’s team regu event.
For the first time, India bagged two silver medals in the equestrian competition.
In the sailing competition, Varsha Gautham and Sweta Shervegar bagged a silver medal in the 49er FX women category, while Harshita Tomar settled for bronze in the Open Laser 4.7 category.
In the 49er FX category, Varsha and Sweta scored a total of 44 points and 40 net points to finish second behind Singapore’s Min Kimberly Lim and Rui Qi Cecilia Low, who got 44 total points and 14 net points.
In the Open Laser 4.7 category, Harshita scored a total of 62 points and 50 net points to finish third.
In badminton, star shuttler P.V. Sindhu had to settle for a historic silver after going down in straight games against World No.1 Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan. The defeat meant that Sindhu became the first Indian to win an individual silver medal in badminton at the Asiad. Saina had to settle for bronze after losing in the semi-finals. However, the performance of the male shuttlers was dissapointing.
Along with the success stories, there were several major disappointments as well. Two of the biggest upsets were in kabaddi, with both the men’s and women’s teams failing to win the gold medals for the first time. Both the Indian teams fell to Iran.
The boxers also turned out to be a major disappointment with only two medals. Upcoming boxer Amit Panghal stunned the reigning Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan to win the men’s light flyweight (49 kilogram) category.
Vikas Krishan had to settle for bronze in the men’s middleweight (75kg) as he had to pull out of the semi-finals due to an injury.
The men’s freestyle wrestlers were another big disappointment with Bajrang Punia’s gold in the 65kg category the only saving grace. Vinesh Phogat won gold in the women’s 50 kg freestyle section to take India’s wrestling tally to two gold medals. Divya Kakran won a bronze in the 68kg.
Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar was at the receiving end of probably the biggest upset in wrestling at this year’s Asiad as he was outclassed 3-5 by Adam Batirov of Bahrain in the first round of the men’s 74kg division.
The performance by the Indian archers was something of a mixed bag. The Indian men’s and women’s compound archery teams lost to teams from South Korea in their respective finals. The performance by the compound archers came as a consolation after the complete failure of the recurve team with both the men’s and women’s teams going down in their quarter-finals.
The men’s hockey team also fell far short of expectations despite being strong contenders for the title in a relatively lightweight field. They failed to reach the final, losing to Malaysia in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. The Indians managed to take some consolation by defeating arch-foes Pakistan 2-1 in the bronze medal play-off.
The women’s hockey team did better as they got a silver medal, losing 1-2 to lower-ranked Japan in the final. It was India’s second silver medal in women’s hockey after a gap of 20 years.
The Modi government seemed keen to project the notion that the increased medal counts in Asiad, just like the rising growth rate in the Indian economy, were positive outcomes of its well-planned, well-intentioned and well-executed policies.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the medal winners were congratulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and complimented for their exemplary performance.
While telling the medal winners that their sporting feats had raised India’s stature and pride, Prime Minister Modi reportedly expressed hope that the medal winners would remain grounded and would not lose focus due to fame and accolades.
“During the interaction, Prime minister urged the sportspersons to use technology as an aid to improve their performance. He added that sportspersons should continue their self-improvement by using technology aided critical analysis of their performance as well as those of top players in the world. The Prime Minister expressed happiness in seeing young talents rise from the small towns, rural areas and from poor background and win medals for the nation. He said that there is real potential in the rural areas and we should continue nurturing those talents. He added that the outside world is unaware of the day-to-day struggles a sports person has to go through,” the statement said.
“PM Modi urged the sportspersons not to rest based on the laurels achieved and asked them to strive harder for greater glory. He said that the biggest challenge for the medal winners will start now and they should never lose their goal of being in the Olympic Games podium,” it added.
According to the other, critical section of the media, that was exactly one of the major problem areas in the Indian sports world.
The experts of this side of the argument pointed to the fact that, despite earning the highest number of medals it has ever won in the Asian Games, India was ranked a lowly eighth in the medals tally – even below the likes of economically inferior countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan, and Indonesia and tiny lands such as Chinese Taipei and South Korea – most of whom have a significantly smaller population than India.
When compared to tally leader China, which won a total of 289 medals (with 132 gold, 92 silver and 65 bronze medals), the critics pointed out, the Indian story (with only 15 gold, 24 silver, and 32 bronze medals) looked positively dull if not depressing.
The nation was reminded that in the 1960 Olympics, China had won the same number of medals as India: One silver. Just the one. Yet, by 2000 Sydney Olympics China had moved light years ahead with 28 gold medals while India had none. Similarly in Rio Olympics, China bagged 70 medals (with 26 golds) while India languished at the bottom half of the medals table with just two (with a silver and bronze).
Those expressing dissatisfaction with India’s Asiad results also note that India has a dual problem. They say that while India seriously lags behind richer and more developed nations in sports funding and infrastructure (the apparent and oft-stated reason why most advanced countries are on the top half of the medals tables of these international events), it also lacks desire to excel, with most people, including sportspersons, being comfortably satisfied with mediocrity. Perhaps that was what Prime Minister Modi seemed to have alerted the Asiad medal winners to during their recent meeting in the national capital.
Besides that, according to many expert observers, the absence of a national plan, inadequate private spending, inefficient and lethargic bureaucracy, not to mention the politicisation of sports do just about enough to dissuade thousands of potential Indian medal winners.
Between the euphoria and gloom over the India’s Asiad results, the truth may be somewhere in between. While better governance these days has undeniably led to improved results for India in the sporting world, there is still a long way to go.