WHEN his javelin soared high, piercing the Tokyo sky in only the second attempt in the final, Neeraj Chopra did not even bother to look at it. Bringing his sprint to a screeching halt he swivelled into a reverse turn and threw his hands up. It was a rare belief of a champion, cocksure of the final result, telling India that her moment has finally arrived in the Olympics. The spear descended with a curve and went straight into the ground to give India a magical figure that it will savour for posterity. Chopra’s 87.58 meter throw was India’s biggest leap at the quadrennial extravaganza that tests the last ounce of sweat and blood of an athlete. It had transcended a century-old barrier to bring home a rare Gold Medal in track and field event. Never had the Olympic podium played the Indian National Anthem in the athletics field. As the country cried, as Chopra’s eyes twinkled with tears of extreme pride, India fulfilled a long-cherished dream and ended decades of torment. Now is the time to extend that dream till golden finishes become a habit for Indian sportspersons at the Olympics. Tokyo has broken a glass-ceiling for Indian sports. The first attempt was engineered 13 years ago by Abhinav Bindra in Beijing. It would remain the first individual Gold medal for an Indian since Independence. Yet, the Gold that Neeraj Chopra’s javelin has plucked comes wrapped with a soothing feeling for a nation that endured two biggest heartbreaks in the athletics field. For years, India nursed the two disappointments when first Milkha Singh and later P T Usha came agonisingly close to an Olympic medal till destiny willed otherwise.
Those two moments have been pricking every Indian heart for decades. The pain has vanished now. That’s why what Neeraj Chopra has achieved with the Gold medal in Tokyo can never be judged by a barometer of practicality. Chopra’s feat is the most perfect reminder to Indian sports, in general, of how a dream is forged by a silent revolution comprising belief, toil and extreme passion for excellence. Tokyo was Chopra’s first Olympics although he had the glory of Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in his kitty to spur him for greater heights. The field he encountered had regional, continental and world champions with much higher exploits to their credit. For any other debutant even the setting and the lead actors could have been totally unnerving. But the Armyman from India towered over them all with an unassuming gait and a distinct informality that kept his mind uncluttered in the final throws. The Gold was a byproduct of strenuous preparations but the most glittering aspect of that Gold medal was the élan with which Chopra clinched it for India.
All these years, travelling to various continents, India was searching for this rare confidence that distinguishes a champion from other triers. Let us take this confidence into the sporting fields spread across India with a new vigour before the world meets again in Paris three years later. The Great Indian Golden Dream must assume a bigger spread in the years to come after the best-ever medal haul in Olympics. The likes of Mirabai Chanu, Ravi Dahiya, Lovlina Borgohain, P V Sindhu, Bajrang Punia and also the men’s hockey team have helped in stirring the sporting pot back home. All it needs is a strong momentum to sustain. Each of those medal can catapult its respective winner to the position of a societal icon. India needs a wide range of sporting icons to bring about a revolutionary change in the thinking of the society.
The Tokyo Olympics have built a fine foundation to achieve the goal. However, looking at this edition of the Games from the point of view of the largest medal haul would be lopsided thinking. The real story in the Land of Rising Sun was not just about the seven medals that surpassed the tally of six in London 2012. It is all about the wonderful resilience and hunger to get counted among the best that the Indian athletes showed in their respective disciplines. There were a few disappointments which comes as a necessary package in the sporting arena. That those failures have acted as a push to renew pledge for excellence is the most remarkable gain for Indian sports. No praise can be too high for the brave Indian women who lost the bronze medal by a whisker in hockey. In the matter of just one campaign, the less-heralded women hockey players walked into the thinking of sports lovers, the game’s administrators and the political community which matters the most for progress of any discipline in this country. Their loss hurt the entire country as they shed a tear with the sobbing girls when they were being consoled in a fatherly gesture by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi.
Never had the entire nation rallied behind a young golfer in Aditi Ashok when her last stroke touched the rim of the hole and denied her a deserving medal. There were collective sighs and in the next moment realisation of the fight the young girl had put up despite being far off from the limelight. No matter the elitist nature of the sport of golf, it was Aditi’s fight for the honour of India that was more important. All those who watched wrestler Deepak Punia give in his best in the bronze medal play-off grieved with the player as the clock ended his last-ditch effort. Such overwhelming gestures of support and the oneness the entire country experienced for a common dream will drive the future of Indian sports in every arena. These things form an essential part of a sporting ecosystem, for, they spread a warmth among the athletes who give their best to bring pride for the countrymen. When a society stands up strongly behind its achievers and budding talents, entire gamut of a sporting contest automatically changes. A glimpse of this power was visible in Tokyo when failures of some favourites were kept only for an analysis than derision by the fans. It worked as propeller for those remaining in fray in their own sports. The highest count of medals is the proof of having faith in our sportspersons. India’s Tokyo story started with a silver lining on the very first day when Mirabai Chanu raised hopes. It concluded with a wonderful Golden resplendence unleashed by the monster throw from Neeraj Chopra. Between the two, the resilience of India stood out.