Why Is India Struggling To Win The Gold Medal At The Olympics?

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TOKYO – On Wednesday, Lovlina Borgohain punched all the girls in a sumo wrestling hall where women are not normally allowed in the ring. He poked at his faraway hometown of Assam, known for its fine tea, but also for its teas. armed rebellion.

But most of all, she fought in the Olympic women’s heavyweight boxing semi-finals for India, the second most populous country in the world and missing from the Olympics by even the most charitable calculations. Along with a string of men’s hockey wins generations ago, India has won just one more gold in shooting in 2008 in Olympic history.

“I was 100 percent sure I would come home with gold,” said Borgohain, who has trained eight years away from home, his father once collecting tea to earn a living.

His Tokyo rival Busenaz Sürmeneli from Turkey was perhaps a head shorter, but his feet were light and his kicks were strong. Borgohain was overwhelmed, his slender body absorbing blow after blow, his hopes of becoming a gold medal role model for millions of Indian girls dashed.

“What message can I give them?” said. “I just lost my match.”

Borgohain still secures the bronze medal, which is India’s third medal at these Games after silver in women’s weightlifting and bronze in women’s badminton.

But every four years – in this case five – the same questions are asked in India. Why is the country so bad at the Olympics? And does it matter?

Wanting to raise India’s global profile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to do so. After India’s substandard performance – one silver and one bronze – at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the government began pouring money into a sports bureaucracy that had been underfunded and tainted with corruption for decades. Private initiatives stepped in and trained elite athletes who could benefit from their ascension trajectory. And government money began to trickle into grassroots sports.

“Now the government is working hard to change the sports system,” said weightlifting trainer Vijay Sharma, who has been working with Tokyo silver medalist Mirabai Chanu for seven years. “But they have to do a lot. It’s a long journey they have to run.”

Abhinav Bindra, India’s only Olympic gold medalist in an individual competition, said the sporting landscape today is different from when he won the 10m air rifle competition in Beijing. He said that when he participated in shooting competitions in his youth, there were 200 competitors. These days, the contest attracts 20,000 as well as 20,000 who don’t cut. He noted that eight members of the Indian shooting team in Tokyo were world number 1 or 2 in their respective categories.

“It could be the beginning of a new era in Indian sport,” Bindra said.

But so far Tokyo has been the same area of ​​disappointment for India. Ravi Dahiya, a men’s freestyle wrestler, is guaranteed a minimum of silver after winning a semi-final match on Wednesday, and a male javelin thrower is still in contention. The women’s hockey team has advanced to the semi-finals for the first time but after losing on Wednesday, it has to fight for the bronze just like its male counterparts. The archers missed their target. A discus thrower came in sixth. And the highly praised shooters failed to follow in Bindra’s footsteps. None of them came close to the medal.

Not everyone in India is convinced that the country should measure its national worth with Olympic medals. They say that India is already a sports powerhouse, but not in the pursuits at the Olympics.

By far the most popular pastime in India, cricket has a lucrative domestic league and the country rises in the sport’s best international ranks. Sports organizers have also opened a professional league. Kabaddi, an ancient form of South Asian group tag where players have to say the word “kabaddi” over and over again occasionally. (Vocation is intended to get players to exhale while attacking.)

The fact that Indian sports audiences focus elsewhere other than for a few weeks every four years has not lessened Tokyo’s frustrations. The flow of finance before the Games increased gold expectations. Indian sports officials showcased the country’s largest, youngest and most decorated 127-member Olympic delegation to date.

For Indian Olympians, the weight of a nation’s expectations is crushing, especially after competition has been halted for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. A 19-year-old Indian hitman determined for a possible medal in the air pistol admitted that the burden of winning is a distraction in a sport where concentration is paramount.

in archery, Atanu Das He had written the word “calm” on his hand while racing in the 1/8 qualifying round at the weekend. He lost. The previous day, her husband and fellow archer Deepika Kumari did not pass the quarter-finals despite being number 1 in the world.

“Maybe we took this Olympics too seriously, Indian unity,” Das said. “We forgot to enjoy our shot or skill.”

The archers of India trained in obscurity. The new Olympic move has given them instant fame as well as months of free training at an army sports camp. Athletes said the attention was overwhelming.

“Nobody knows when we win the World Cup. Nobody knows when we win the world championship. When we get the #1 world, nobody knows,” said Das. “But the Indians are at the Olympics, then everybody knows everything.”

“This is always the pressure inside your head,” he added.

Bindra, the 2008 Beijing gold medalist, said her success was based on family wealth, not government support. His father built a world-class shooting range at their home in the northern city of Chandigarh. Then he filled it with a swimming pool and gym for his son to build up his muscles. At that time, a comparable one-shot range was in New Delhi.

A former captain of the Indian hockey team, Viren Rasquinha is now CEO of Olympic Gold Quest, a non-profit group founded by former top athletes to foster the next generation of talent.

Rasquinha says the national sports authority has lost some of its cumbersome, eroded reputation, while building an ecosystem of coaches, training facilities, infrastructure and equipment takes time.

In recent years, the country’s strongest Olympian crop has come from a narrow stretch of land in northeastern India, where ethnic minorities live in the shadow of the Himalayas. These states, Manipur and Assam, are home to rebel movements fighting for autonomy from the Indian state. Because of their ethnicity, people there are often discriminated against.

“Rural youth have the passion and fire that is missing among students in cities,” said Rasquinha, whose group funds some of these athletes.

Lightweight boxer Mary Kom from Manipur, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 Games in London, said that as a Christian she has long faced prejudice from Hindu nationalists who say she is somehow not truly Indian. There are also racist whispers, some not so quiet, that people in the Himalayan foothills are more warlike than those in India and are therefore good boxers.

Kom has six world titles to his name. She was the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal in boxing. She gave birth to another baby after London. She and her husband now have four children, and “they always want the different dishes I make for them,” she said. So he’s cooking. He also won a seat in the parliament. A biopic in the lead role Priyanka Chopra Jonas made about him.

“People of Manipuri, we have a fighting spirit, especially women,” said Kom, who grew up on rationing to save up for a pair of sneakers.

Kom mobilized a generation of Manipuri athletes, including weightlifter Chanu, who won a silver medal in the 49-pound class in Tokyo.

“From now on, India will be successful in the Olympics,” Chanu said. “Young people will see me and be inspired, just like I was on Mary Kom.”

Kom, who qualified last week in Tokyo after failing to make it to Rio at age 38, was eliminated in a split fight. Despite his first-round loss and official age limits for Olympic boxers, he said he’s aiming for the Paris Games in 2024.

“Manipuri women have extra energy,” she said. “Don’t say we’re done yet.”

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