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Brimming with national pride

As entire India was preparing to celebrate the 75th Independence Day, our athletes in Birmingham, draped in Tricolour and holding their heads high while singing the national anthem, lived the thrill in their own distinct style

Brimming with national pride
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The Indian athletes in action at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham would have been well aware of the importance of Independence Day this year. There is festivity in the air as India celebrates its 75th Independence Day on Monday.

Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, a beautiful slogan, is being celebrated by millions of Indians. If putting up the national flag in every nook and corner of India reflects the mood of the nation, the athletes, too, did their bit in Birmingham. Proof of it was the 61 medals won. Twenty-two medals were gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze.

This has been one of the most emotional Independence Day preparations in a very long time. It has to do with 75 being a special number. And it also has to do with how India is showcasing its potential in various walks of life.

Mankind went through extremely trying phases during the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two-and-a-half-years. There was loss of lives, loss of livelihoods and loss in several other forms which cannot be calculated in monetary terms.

There have been upheavals for almost every family in India during this phase. One needed to find peace, solace and joy. And that is what the performances in the Commonwealth Games have brought about.

The way Indian sportspersons won medals in the last three days at the Games was a bit reminiscent of what the hosts achieved at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010. The medal tally then was different, no doubting that. Yet, for the sheer variety of medals won this time and the explosive talent of track and field coming to the fore in Birmingham has made everyone proud.

Watching the national anthem being played again and again can never get boring in a sporting arena. The difference in performance from the first week to the second week was in itself a huge revelation in Birmingham.

Now that the athletes are back, there is joy in the air. Each medal winner has a story to tell, of toil, tears and triumph. The eight medals won in track and field were truly sensational, with triple jump, the 10km walk and the long jump being big-ticket performances.

All this did not happen by fluke. At the same time, all this did not happen overnight. There have been concrete efforts put in by all the stakeholders, with the Government of India playing the lead role. Minus funds from the Indian government, Indian sport would be dead. It is only cricket which can survive on its own as its business model is robust.

Back to Birmingham, to be competing in England was special. Defeating Englishmen in a few events was also special, as they are supposed to be the pioneers of these Games. From a historical perspective as well, for India to have got freedom from the Britishers needs to be celebrated over and over again.

Today, England as a nation is in turmoil, politically and economically. So, for India to have won medals at the CWG does not mean we will win the same number of medals next year at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. Viewed from a process of how Indian athletes are shaping up, the way seasoned stars and youngsters have exploded to brilliance was a delight.

You would have expected a medal from Lakshya Sen for sure. That he would win gold in men's badminton is a testimony to his talent and temperament, as the young man draped his soul in tricolour and performed with a cucumber cool approach.

PV Sindhu, who keeps upping the scale for herself, ensured she would also win gold this time. The difference was how Sindhu showed craft and power in the final against Canadian Michelle Li. That Sindhu has thrived under pressure each time is well known. This time, with fans allowed inside the arena, she responded with a golden effort. Truly, it came in such a manner, each one was singing the national anthem when the flag went up.

When the organisers of the Games had announced way back in 2018 that shooting would not be part of the programme, it upset many at home. Efforts were made by India and even pressure was put to include shooting. That it did not fructify was because of costs involved in staging shooting events.

However, one cannot blame the Indian shooters for not cheering their fellow athletes, be it able bodied and Para athletes. From Manu Bhaker to Anjali Bhagwat, they took to social media to express their joy as medals were won regularly in Birmingham.

It is this bonding between athletes which makes a multi-discipline Games so special. One would have thought, with shooters not in the mix, how India would cover up for 16 medals which were won in the last edition in 2018 in Gold Coast. That Indian athletes have found new pastures to shine is a bonus. Of course, not all events will be part of the Asian Games and Olympics programme.

If you had thought the Indian women cricketers would be winning a silver medal at Edgbaston, then you had to be a huge optimist. This medal means so much to the girls as they crave for attention. Unlike their male counterparts, the women do not enjoy such adulation nor do they get the same exposure. It is only now that the BCCI (Indian cricket board) is planning more events for them in the domestic calendar and a possible IPL-type tournament as well.

When the Indian men's hockey team won bronze last year in Tokyo, it led to a huge emotional outpouring at home. This time, Manpreet's team was hammered by Australia in the final. They lost massively but did not return empty handed. The women's team winning bronze was emotional as Savita Punia shouldered the entire load of the nation in the penalty shootout with alacrity.

Hockey has this huge national connect with the public in India. It evokes emotions, passion and even tears when the team does badly. Winning two medals is not bad at all, though work for the next big target begins soon. These two teams know that to do well at the 2024 Paris Olympics, they have to crank up from now.

For the time being, they will be allowed time to celebrate the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav as hockey and the Tiranga are so closely knit. Maybe, it is due to India having done so well in the past at the Olympics. Maybe, it is because of the game being so fast and pacy, fans feel part of it, be it a win or loss.

If hockey is the national game, then track and field cannot be forgotten. The emergence of India as a country with talent and the capability to fire on the big stage was a revelation. Hello, where were these athletes before, was the question being asked.

Well, the groundwork was being done, without shouting from the rooftops. That athletes could focus on the Commonwealth Games was creditable as they were without their brand ambassador Neeraj Chopra.

Now you can well say India has new champions from triple jump in Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacke. Wait, there is one athlete who will rank head and shoulder above these two, as Avinash Sable blazed a world class field in the 3000-metres steeplechase. To match pace with the Kenyans was mind blowing. It brings into focus how Indian athletes have started believing in themselves. There is no fear and there is no shirking hard work.

The positives from these Games need to be carried forward. In the 2026 edition of the Commonwealth Games, shooting and wrestling will be absent. Wrestling was one sport which brought India immense joy in Birmingham. To snatch away this sport from the programme is the host's (Victoria's) prerogative.

India may try and put pressure for the inclusion of these disciplines in coming months. The more positive way would be to focus on games where we have potential. There are plenty of options. We have to believe as a nation that we have that hunger and skill to excel in every sport. That should be the oath taken by athletes this Independence Day.

Views expressed are personal

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