Millennium Post

The Olympic chin up mantra

London 2012 is over, with all the glitz, glory and heartbreak that the Olympics bring. And there was heartbreak and humiliation aplenty for India. As always.

A pall hung over the Indian effort even before the games started.

The international press dubbed India the most underperforming Olympic nation ever. Studies by US academics on how nations should perform at the Olympics based on their size and economy spawned articles in the Western press bemoaning India’s poor showing thus far. Though neither unsympathetic nor unfair, they were nevertheless demoralising.

Who can forget the sorry saga of the Olympic selection spats amongst the Indian tennis stars? The now notorious ‘Woman in Red’ incident at the opening ceremony did us no favours either. Madhura Nagendra, opening ceremony extra of Indian origin, didn’t  exactly cover herself in glory when she pushed the Indian Olympic contingent to the background for her 15 seconds of fame, but nor did Indian officialdom with their peevish unwillingness to shift their focus back to the sport after the incident. It was
Déjà vu
time as politics took over Indian sport once again.

When the competition finally started, it was the same sad story of our sporting stars exposing their feet of clay by crashing out early or too-comfortably occupying the bottom spot. Our squabbling tennis stars, the hapless hockey team, Bindra, our golden boy from Beijing, all disappointed. A few unfortunate decisions also went against us. The boxers, in particular, seemed to suffer at the hands of parochial judges. In Sangwan’s case, even the British commentator was outraged, calling the decision against him, ‘daylight robbery’. But with the exception of a handful of instances, we really had no-one else to blame. We had underperformed woefully again.

As London wrapped up its otherwise delightful games with a surreal closing ceremony of has-beens warbling long forgotten ditties, the regulation gloomy post mortems of India’s performance started rolling in. But was it really such a disaster? Every avid India-watcher knows how hard it is to look past the obvious disappointment of India’s miserable medal tally sans a single gold, but if we could allow ourselves to do that, there are actually things to feel good about.

Let me introduce you to my ‘Olympic Chin Up Mantra’. If your head’s been drooping in shame, hold it high, lift that chin up, and repeat after me: Our six medals at the London Olympics represent six reasons to be proud.

One, it’s garnered us our highest Olympic medal haul. We’ve won three more than our previous best ever result of three in Beijing. Could we make it nine in Rio?

Two, it was the best ever Olympics for Indian women. Mary Kom may not have won the hoped for gold, but she still did India proud. Between her and Saina Nehwal, Indian women doubled their previous best medal count. It may have gone from one Olympic bronze in 2000 to two in 2012, but alongside improved performances at other international events like the 2010 Commonwealth Games where Indian women won 37 medals, up from zilch just a decade ago, it suggests Indian women are able to devote more time to sport.

Three, Sushil Kumar, the first individual to win two Olympic medals for Independent India; how can we not bask in his deserved glory?

Four, the Olympics is much more than a sporting occasion; it’s a cultural extravaganza. And culturally, we were on top of our game.

Tino Sehgal’s performance art at the Tate Modern, poet Tishani Doshi’s star turn at London’s popular Southbank Centre poetry festival, and Sarnath Banerjee’s work on the shared history of sport splashed across billboards, posters and newspapers across the city, showed London off as a multicultural creative hub, and made it an Indian summer at the Olympics.

If there was a gold medal for artistic achievement at these games, an Indian would have won it. Artist Anish Kapoor’s towering artwork, The Orbit, central showpiece of the Olympic Park, proudly watched over the games at 115m (22m taller than the Statue of Liberty). Outside the sporting arena, it was the image London 2012 will be remembered for.

That brings us to the 5th Indian connection, business behemoth Lakshmi Mittal who built this £19.6million addition to London’s skyline, his investment in London 2012 paid off as the Orbit became a talking point before the games had even begun. Tata, too, was heavily involved with the Olympic effort, and though, sadly, their Indian protégés such as Tata Academy archer Deepika Kumari did not bring home the gold, its investment in British Triathlon paid dividends. In fact, Mittal, having tasted Olympic glory, has pledged 55 Crores to support India in Rio. That’s got to be worth a cheer!

Last but not least, the spotlight on the ordinary Indian at London 2012 brought a smile to the India-watchers’ face.

No ordinary Indian, Amitabh Bachchan’s turn as torch bearer is well-documented but there were a few others whose involvement gladdened the heart. Inspirational 101-year-old Marathon Man Fauja Singh, carried the flame through Newham in London, and he wasn’t alone; from 21 year old Ammal Uppal, given the opportunity for his tireless work for charity, to 69 year old Kistiah Ramaya, a public figure in little Lampeter, there were many more Indian faces on the relay route than ever before.

Teenage Assamese girl Pinky Karmakar got to hold the torch aloft too, in recognition of her grassroots contribution to Indian sports. Not such a bad Olympics after all, and plenty to build on for Rio.

Shreya Sen-Handley is a writer and illustrator. She now writes for The Guradian and other UK newspapers.
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