Where tiny nations held their own

Sport is a great equaliser, they say. Nowhere is it better showcased than in the Olympics. And this year’s Olympics was not an exception. Very many athletes made their tiny and internationally less known countries proud by beating the mighty.

Take for instance Jamaica. The tiny country south of USA showed once again that it has some of world’s fastest athletes. It was the effortless Usain Bolt who led from the front to win three gold medals, a perfect repetition of his Beijing 2008 feat. Politically, Jamaica may be insignificant for its mighty neighbour, but on sports field at least USA was relegated to third and second positions respectively in the most exciting men’s 100m and 4x100m relay.

Or take the case of several African countries which are ravaged by civil wars, poverty and destitution. Despite such serious problems back home, some of the athletes, especially women, from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda proved their mite in marathon and long distance walk. The world had to take notice of these reed-thin but energetic stars. Or consider Rohullah Nipkai who had won the first ever medal (bronze) for Afghanistan in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in Taekwondo. He won it again this time. “Getting a medal is very important for all countries in the world, but especially for Afghanistan,” he said. At once all understand what he means. For a country devastated by terrorist attacks and suicide bombings and which is severely bruised by a series of wars, this medal means a lot. The people of his country at least for a while will rejoice in this rare achievement. 

Special victory

Then there is Shenjie Quieyang, the first Tibetan to win a medal. She won bronze in 20km walk race. During the victory ceremony there were two flags going up for her, that of People’s Republic of China and the Tibetan snow-lion flag. Of course, she was fielded by China, but for scores of Tibetans in exile, her victory was very special.

Well, sport may be a great equaliser, but sceptics have their doubts if all sports are equal in terms of their value for medal consideration. While it took just 9.63 seconds for Usain Bolt to win the gold medal in the 100m race, it took a gruelling 3 hours 35 minutes and 59 seconds for Kirdyapkin Surgey of Russia to complete the 50km race walk. Or that demanding sport called Triathlon where an athlete has to swim for 1.5 kms, cycle for 40 kms and run another 10 kms. Can we compare these sports? Well, it may have taken Bolt just 9.63 seconds to win the medal, but it has taken him years of punishing hard work, isolation, professional training and patience to achieve that speed.

India’s performance in London, on the other hand, is no mean achievement. Doubling the medal tally from the last Olympics in Beijing is in itself something remarkable. And each of the six medals was hard fought. Apart from the medal winners, there were several others, like Devendro Singh Laichram who lost after fighting bravely in the 49kg boxing category. Several of them did extremely well, but needed a little more luck and experience. That Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia reached the finals in the discus throw must also be commended. All this suggests that there is no dearth of talent in India.

What is required is to groom these talents from a young age like what China does. Today, sports are not mere physical exercises. They bring people together. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that when laws and ordinances fail to unite people sports persons do. Take for example, Mary Kom who belongs to a small Kom tribe in Manipur. On the day that she won bronze medal, all in Manipur, including the arch rivals Manipuri Nagas and Meiteis, forgot their differences and cheered for Mary. They celebrated that one of their own had made them proud. That speaks volumes. 

A multi cultural and diverse country like India, with hundreds of languages and traditions and caste and religion divides, needs many more sportspersons to do well in the international competitions, especially the Olympics. For this to happen, the Indian government must take a very pro-active role. Our sports bodies, most of whom are mired with politics and ego clashes and are headed by politicians and ex-bureaucrats, need a thorough facelift. The legendary boxer Muhammad Ali is quoted to have said, “Champions aren’t made in the gym, champions are made from something deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.” The country too needs a desire, a dream and a vision to nurture the same in their sports persons.

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