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Bombay Diary

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19th August 2016

To those who are disappointed with India`s Olympic performance, I would say only one thing: what were you expecting? If you know anything about world standards in athletics and field games, you know that our chances were next to nil to start with. The great Milkha Singh and P T Usha both came fourth, which is a whisker away from the bronze medal, but still it WAS fourth so they came back empty handed. There`s no one with a remote chance of even matching their ‘almost’ feat.

The only realistic chance we have of any medals are in badminton, tennis, shooting, archery, boxing and wrestling, with an outside chance in men`s hockey. Abhinav Bindra almost got a bronze to go with his gold at the last Olympics – but I (like a million others glued to our TV sets) saw him lose that agonising tie-break. Jitu Rai was expected to get a medal in the 50m pistol because of his winning ways in pre-Olympic tournaments, and he was fourth in the standings when an untimely gust of wind literally blew his chances away. The women`s archery team too lost in a tie-break – again the difference between heart-break and triumph is so very cruel and tiny! The men`s hockey team has been hanging tough – and might well qualify for the quarter finals which will continue the rise from the morass in which our once national game had sunk.

But if you feel despondent about our overall performance, think of the strides our women have taken in the last few years – boxing, weight-lifting, archery, fencing, squash (not, alas, an Olympic game), badminton and tennis. And even hockey: this is the first Olympics for which our women qualified.

That is the operative word – ‘qualified’. In most games, the aim of our sportsmen and sportswomen is to do well enough just to achieve the Olympic qualifying target. That helps them in the first objective of getting to the games, not win any medals. Even our gymnast Dipa Karmarkar who created a sensation with her risky maneuver, isn’t expected to win a medal: for us, the wonder is that a women gymnast from India has at last reached the qualifying level. If you expect anything more, you should step back into the real world. But then, the old quibble comes back – India is such a large country, why does Michael Phelps – one individual – have 21 gold medals, while India – an entire country – has just 9. And that too over the whole history of the game, with most of them in hockey. There are many sociological and economic reasons for this, so many that you will need a whole book to spell them out.

On the subject of Phelps, while we celebrate his incredible achievement, a swimmer`s tally of medals will always be superior to other sportsmen for the simple reason that swimming has four strokes – free-style, butterfly, breast-stroke and back-stroke. You combine them in a race and you get the medley. Add the team event, and over each distance, you have the possibility of multiple medals. So if a swimmer does the 100, 200 and 400 metres, he has the possibility of a bagful of them. Whereas even one of the world`s best sprinters in history, Usain Bolt, can only aspire to four: 100 and 200 metres, and the relays over the two distances. That will remain so till they introduce a sprint run backwards, and one run sideways. Which they might well do considering they have Beach Volleyball as an Olympic sport. It’s a game you play on a beach for fun, while volleyball on an indoor court is the real game. The only reason beach volleyball is popular with spectators is because they can ogle under-dressed females throwing themselves about without being accused of being lecherous.

Also is synchronised swimming a sport? It would be great as an entertainment item in Las Vegas, but in Olympic competition? They keep talking about the Games becoming unwieldy, yet include non-games like these! Because of that they have to leave out squash, while tennis just about gets a foothold. I know the world is an unfair place, but this is ridiculous.