A few hits, plenty of misses

A few hits, plenty of misses

Sindhu's silver and Sakshi's bronze brought some cheer to an otherwise India's lacklustre campaign

A few hits, plenty of misses

To say India belied expectations in Rio would be an understatement. The 117-member contingent that did duty at the Games of the 31st Olympiad had the talent to travel far but in the end, they had to thank the determination of two young women for saving them from total embarrassment on Brazil’s playfields.

P V Sindhu’s silver in badminton and Sakshi Malik’s bronze in wrestling were outstanding individual efforts but even those couldn’t mask the failings of the rest of the contingent, with some of them being mere tourists. Post-mortems, blame-games and recriminations will be in order but before the mud-slinging gathers pace, here is a quick race through the Indian performance chart:

With 34 athletes, India had their largest-ever squad to an Olympic Games in Rio but the returns were poor. A national record of 9:19.76 by Lalita Babar in the 3000M steeplechase was the highlight of their journey.
Personal best performances came from marathoners T Gopi and Kheta Ram. Mohd Anas was slightly off his personal best in the men’s 400M while Tintu Luka delivered her season’s best. Among walkers, Manish Rawat’s 13th place provided solace.
The rest were journeymen. Unable to come anywhere close to their performances in the qualification period, they left a trail of questions, and left one wondering whether those marks were for real.

The country’s archers have repeatedly choked on the big stage. At London 2012, illness was cited as the reason. This time, the three-member women’s team had no excuses to offer. A medal was within reach of Bombayla Devi, Deepika Kumari and Laxmirani Majhi in the women’s event but a poor show in the ranking round meant they met higher-ranked teams early. A semifinal entry was a poor return for their preparations. Atanu Das, the lone men’s competitor, emerged with some credit given his ranking, making the pre-quarters.

P V Sindhu’s exhilarating performances on the badminton court lifted India’s mood. Saina Nehwal’s early departure, thanks to an injury, was a dampener while the doubles teams – Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponnappa and Manu Attri-Sumeeth Reddy – did not advance past the group stage.
Kidambi Srikanth had the potential to go farther than he did but did not seize his chance against Lin Dan in the quarterfinals. Sindhu then stepped in. It was exciting to see a young talent learn and grow on the big stage and despite defeat in the final against Carolina Marin, Sindhu showed she had it in her to go far.

In a sport torn apart by the inability of the administrators to see the larger picture, three men making it to Rio was a credit to their perseverance. Vikas Krishan, Shiv Thapa and Manoj Kumar were all beaten by better boxers before they could even see the medal rounds. Only Vikas managed to make the quarterfinals, showing India have a long way to go before they can be genuine medal contenders.

Anirban Lahiri was a big disappointment, never reaching the level he is capable of. The 57th place he finished does not exactly reflect his abilities. S S P Chawrasia did well for three rounds before a poor final round sent him tumbling to tied 50th.
The real gainer was Aditi Ashok. At 18 the youngest in the field, Aditi turned the spotlight on her with two rounds of 68 before a 79 and 76 pegged her back to 41st place. Ambitious and enthusiastic, Aditi’s Rio trip was a bright stop on her learning curve.

Dipa Karmakar achieved what was considered the impossible – putting Indian gymnastics on the world map. She might have missed the bronze by a whisker in vault but the Produnova girl was an instant hit, carrying herself with great dignity in her maiden Olympic Games. Her effort was as praiseworthy as that of eventual medalists Sindhu and Sakshi.

Inconsistency was India’s biggest enemy. In the new format, a quarterfinal was a near certainty. Roelant Oltmans’ men achieved that but lack of focus let them down in the final group game against Canada, with a 2-2 draw earning them a tough quarterfinal opposition in Belgium.
Improvements were there in their play – especially against Germany and the Netherlands -- but on their Rio show, the team is far from being a finished product. The women finished at the bottom, no surprises there.

Disappointing was one word to describe the shooters’ show. A 12-member team had men and women capable of winning medals. But barring Abhinav Bindra and Jitu Rai, none managed to even enter the final. Bindra fought brilliantly in his farewell Games before ending fourth in air rifle. Jitu, perhaps overawed by the occasion, was sixth in air pistol and faltered at a crucial juncture in free pistol qualification. His time will come but for India, this was the moment he had to seize.

Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza in mixed doubles were genuine medal hopefuls but by not grabbing the chance in the semifinal against Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, they shot themselves on the foot. Fourth place was a poor return.

Sakshi Malik’s bronze in the women’s 58kg class wasn’t enough to cover the messy state of affairs on the mat. The Narsingh Yadav episode did plenty of damage to India’s image while the others simply failed to measure up. It was pathetic, to put it mildly.

*Other sports
Rower Dhattu Bhokanal’s 13th place in single sculls was a creditable achievement while Indian representatives in table tennis, judo, swimming and weightlifting were like guest actors in movies.

Blink and miss appearances earned them the tag of Olympians and gave them a feel of the Games. Nothing more, nothing less.


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