Asian Games: From 70 medals to a record 107: how and why the needle moved

New Delhi/Hangzhou: It was the shooters and archers who aimed their sights at the 100-plus medal target Team India had set themselves for the Hangzhou Asian Games. This, coupled with the dramatic improvement in both track and field, powered India’s sprint to a record tally of 107 medals that included 35 golds.

The previous best at 2018 Jakarta — 70 medals, 16 gold — had been well and truly relegated to a distant second.

At Sunday’s closing ceremony, India’s march will flag many positives: Team medals in shooting indicate a new depth of talent; gains in compound archery is good news since the event is likely to be included in the Olympics; the track-and-field domination, the mother sport, added to India’s image as a growing sporting nation. And, significantly, the badminton gold and table tennis bronze made China sit up and acknowledge India’s presence in a discipline they have made their own – and for long taken their domination for granted.

Of course, an Asiad bounty doesn’t translate into a medal rush at the Paris Olympics next year — a bunch of medals in Hangzhou have come in events that aren’t in the Olympics and in many, the level of competition will increase several fold.

That, however, doesn’t detract from India’s sporting consistency that the world woke up to after Neeraj Chopra’s gold at Tokyo Olympics two years ago.

Festive offer

The one big reason for the across-the-board performance spike is the steady rise of in government funding of the Olympic disciplines, primarily under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme. With no scarcity of financial resources, the quality of coaches, sports science experts and exposure trips abroad, all have added up to one word: improvement.

An illustrative case is archery:

* For the sport that has a big medal kitty, the government spent Rs 24 crore in 2022-23. The federation tied up with NTPC in a deal worth Rs 115 crore over a period of five years, with an additional Rs 15 crore for one-time support to build infrastructure.

* Approximately Rs 2 crore was spent on hiring coaches from South Korea and Italy, getting sports performance and neuro-science experts from the US as well as getting 50 Indian coaches “exposed” to international seminars.

* Another Rs 3 crore was spent on national camps, where psychologists, nutritionists, strength and conditioning experts, were employed along with using video analysis software.

This investment paid dividends.

From just two archery medals in 2018, the count went up to nine in 2023. The compound archers completed a clean sweep of all the five gold medals on offer. Archers Jyothi Surekha Vennam and Ojas Pravin Deotale, with three gold medals each, were the most successful athletes of this Games.

There are similar stories in other sports too – and the results are telling.

In 2018, India won medals in 18 different sporting disciplines, which went up to 22 in 2023. At both editions, the top two contributions came from athletics and shooting, but Hangzhou saw an increase from 20 to 29 in athletics while shooters brought home 22 medals in comparison to just nine the last time around. These two events alone accounted for a combined increase of 22.

In shooting, the addition of team events pushed the medal tally up but it also showed the improving depth in various categories as Indian shooters went toe-to-toe with China here.

Athletics was always expected to ring in the medals, but some impressive achievements are stand-outs.

For the first time in Asiad history, India had a women’s javelin gold through Annu Rani, a men’s 3000-m steeplechase winner in Avinash Sable.

Chopra and Kishore Kumar Jena clinched a first ever 1-2 in javelin for India, while Tejaswin Shankar’s decathlon silver with a national record was a significant moment. And no one will forget Parul Chaudhary’s dream late sprint to gold in the women’s 5000 m.

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Aditi Ashok’s brilliant silver in golf, two bronze medals in roller skating and one in canoeing were additions from events where India didn’t win a medal in 2018. The addition of chess and cricket to the events roster meant India won two additional medals each from these two events.

While, on paper, badminton accounted for just an increase of one medal, it was a historic showing by Indian shuttlers in Hangzhou as they finally ended the wait for a first ever gold, thanks to Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. The men’s team also reached the final for the first time in Asiad history, clinching silver, while HS Prannoy’s bronze was the first in men’s singles since 1982.

The five events where India saw a dip were tennis, bridge, kurash, wushu and table tennis. But in table tennis, the bronze won by Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee — they defeated the strong Chinese — was actually one of the most significant among the 107 medals.

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