The historic seven-medal feat, apart, the Tokyo Olympics will be remembered for the mental focus that channeled the physical fight the athletes displayed. As always, the Olympics sparked hope, giving people reason to believe even as the planet struggled to come to grips with a raging virus and its mutant.
The Indian contingent in Tokyo showed spunk, spirit and substance as they defied odds and passed the test of their worth and hard work. The various hues of success were tinged with braveheart moments and heartbreaks and yes disappointment too.
If a billion cheers were raised for Neeraj Chopra, the boy from Khandra in Panipat district, who became the first track and field athlete to claim an Olympic gold, the nation saluted the spirit of wrestlers Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Bajrang Punia as they battled injuries to claim a silver and bronze respectively. Mirabai Chanu Saikhom, who claimed silver with a golden lift, PV Sindhu and Lovlina Borgohain’s bronze-winning efforts were celebrated as was the end of India’s agonising 41-year-old wait for a medal in hockey, which was ended by Manpreet Singh & Co, with a bronze.
While the medals will be cherished, the near-misses will not be forgotten. Golfer Aditi Ashok’s fourth-place finish was pathbreaking as was the Indian women’s hockey team’s efforts in ending their campaign in fourth place. India’s women athletes awakened a nation to girls in the pursuit of sporting excellence, especially in rural India.
The shooters disappointed big time. Still, the seven medals felt like oxygen to a country choked by Covid-19’s fury and its after-effects.
NEERAJ CHOPRA (GOLD; JAVELIN THROW)
On August 7, the 24-year-old’s throw created history when he won India’s maiden track and field gold. The weight of that yellow metal outweighed all other performances in Tokyo. Poised and confident, Chopra was a man on a mission, who couldn’t be stopped until he had achieved his goal— to give India the elusive gold medal, a moment the nation was waiting for, for seven decades.
Neeraj Chopra (AFP Photo)
With a throw of 87.58 metres the youngster etched his name in the annals of Indian sporting history and brought a unified belief of ‘We can’ among Indian athletes. Chopra’s landmark medal came barely two months after the legendary Milkha Singh passed away due to Covid-19 related complications, aged 91. Much like the rest of the country, Milkha Singh too lived with the dream of hearing the national anthem at the track and field stadium at an Olympic Games. While his dream remained unfulfilled during his lifetime, Chopra realised it and later said, “Milkha Singh wanted to hear the national anthem in a stadium. He is no longer with us but his dream has been fulfilled.” It was also a moment which fuelled a million dreams.
MIRABAI CHANU SAIKHOM (SILVER; WEIGHTLIFTING)
The image of a tear-stained Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, leaving the stage at the 2016 Rio Olympics, having failed to check a legitimate lift was fresh in memory when she took the field in Tokyo five years later. She changed that cry of disappointment to tears of joy when she turned the attention of the nation on her on the opening day of the sporting extravaganza.
Mirabai Chanu (Twitter Photo)
In the 49kg category, the 27-year-old from Nongpok Kakching in Imphal lifted a total of 202kg (87kg+115kg) to stake claim to a silver.
RAVI KUMAR DAHIYA (SILVER; WRESTLING)
On August 5, when Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s name was announced at the Makuhari Messe, the venue for the wrestling competition, he wore a forlorn look. He barely resembled the warrior, who had given his all against two-time World Champion Zavur Uguev before going down 4-7 in the final of the 57-kg category.
Ravi Dahiya (Twitter Photo)
He aimed for gold, but returned with a silver, only the sixth athlete from India to achieve the feat. After his return to India, he made a promise to convert that silver to a yellow metal effort the next time around.
LOVLINA BORGOHAIN (BRONZE; BOXING)
Lovlina Borgohain (AFP Photo)
At a time when some of the fancied names of Indian boxing failed to live up to expectations, a young Lovlina Borgohain made her maiden Olympic appearance count. She won the bronze in the 69kg welter-weight category after losing her semifinal bout to Turkey’s Busenaz Surmeneli.
BAJRANG PUNIA (BRONZE; WRESTLING)
Indian wrestling endured a horrifying 2021, especially with the fall from grace of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, who was arrested in May for the alleged fatal assault of former junior national wrestling champion Sagar Dhankar. Ravi Dhaiya and later Bajrang Punia’s bronze medal came as a welcome distraction.
Bajrang Punia (AFP Photo)
The seasoned campaigner suffered a knee injury in the build-up to the Olympics and discarded the knee protection before the bronze-medal playoff against Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov.
PV SINDHU (BRONZE; BADMINTON)
PV Sindhu (Twitter Photo)
The first Indian woman to win two Olympic medals, shuttler PV Sindhu failed to better her silver-winning show from Rio Olympics, but she still kept her date with history, getting past China’s He Bing Jiao 21-13, 21-15 to complete the podium.
MEN’S HOCKEY TEAM (BRONZE)
Image credit: Reuters
India’s romance with hockey is rekindled every four years at the Olympics. After the gold medal at the 1980 Games, in Moscow, the agonizing wait stretched until August 5, 2021. After a slow start, they raised hopes of golden glory before losing to Belgium in the semifinals. Manpreet Singh and his band of gritty men staged a remarkable comeback and earned a 5-4 win over Germany to clinch the bronze.