Faster, Higher, Stronger: The Story of Indian Sports

Athletes like Mirabai are the confident, conquering face of India, now an emerging force in sport, whether cricket, wrestling and hockey, or fencing, gymnastics and boxing older brother. India has won world titles and Grand Slams, and has produced a number of champions. In Tokyo last year, India took the top spot at the Olympics with seven medals. In a sport-ready country, Indian athletes are getting faster, taller, stronger.

On the shoulders of giants

India’s journey to Olympic independence began with the 1948 London Olympics, when the country sent 79 teams (no women) and won a gold medal in hockey. With stick wizard Dhyan Chand paving the way, hockey is the only sport that India dominates. Starting in Amsterdam in 1928, India won 11 Olympic medals in hockey, eight of which were gold. From 1928 to 1992, Barcelona had India’s only Olympic medal belonging to wrestler KD Jadhav, who won bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Medals may have been scarce but there are still plenty of heroes to keep the fire burning. The country’s first race star was Milkha Singh. At CWG 1958 in Cardiff, he won 440 yards to become India’s first independent gold medalist at the Olympics. Two of India’s greatest athletes, Milkha Singh (Rome 1960) and PT Usha (Los Angeles 1984), finished fourth at the Olympics but their illustrious careers paved the way for generations. front.


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In 1958, Wilson Jones won the Billiards World Championship to become the first world champion from India. Prakash Padukone’s artistry made him the first Indian to win the prestigious 1980 All England Badminton Championship, one of the biggest titles in the sport. In tennis, Krishnans (Ramanathan and his son Ramesh) and Amritrajs (Vijay and Anand) have ensured that India punches above its weight in a predominantly white sport by reaching the final. Davis Cup three times.

“The 1982 Asian Games brought some awareness of sport to the middle class; was broadcast live on TV. Otherwise, our only sports heroes are the cricketers,” said former badminton player Vimal Kumar, who was the team coach when India won the Thomas Cup in May this year. .

Olympic medal winning continued to trickle into 1996, when Leander Paes, a wildcard entrant, won a bronze medal. Four years later, Karnam Malleswari became India’s first female medalist when she won bronze in the women’s 69kg weightlifting event. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore demonstrated India’s rising stature in shooting by winning a silver medal at Athens 2004.

Worth the wait in gold

On 11 August 2008, Abhinav Bindra shot down the final hurdle as he won India’s first individual gold medal at the Olympics. An intense man, Bindra was a still picture as he scored a near-perfect 10.8 on his final shot to win the air rifle 10m. Deepthi Boppaiah of the GoSports Foundation, a non-profit founded the same year, said: “Abhinav’s gold has given rise to hope that we can do just that.

It took 61 years to win the first individual gold medal, it took India another 13 years to win the second gold medal. The fiery Neeraj Chopra threw the javelin 87.58m in his second attempt to win a gold medal at last year’s postponed Tokyo Olympics. Adille Sumariwalla, head of the Athletics Federation of India and a star sprinter in the 1970s and 80s, believes it was “the best thing that happened to Indian athletics.” “His success also proves that the system we’ve been running for the past 15 years works,” adds Sumariwalla. interdistrict middle and high school programs (now grown to include more than 500 counties)”.

Whether it’s governance, resources, opportunities, expertise or attitudes, every variable over the past 15 years has shown marked improvement. Indian athletes talk less about cannibal cricket of other sports, and more about their own goals. Vimal Kumar believes that Indian athletes now get the necessary exposure at the appropriate age. “Athletes are traveling abroad at the age of 14-15, they are competing, living away from home, those things help a lot in building confidence in themselves,” he said.

Malleswari said: “If you compare with my time playing, Indian sport is as different as night and day. kits used by male wrestlers. If you have a sports injury, no support will be available. “

International competitions are few and far between. Sumariwalla will train on mud or grass tracks, but must run on synthetic tracks in international tournaments. In addition to multi-sport events, he has to fund his own travel and training abroad. “There was a time when we had an athletics coach who trained from 100m to 5,000m. We have a coach for the high jump, triple and long jump, pole vault and then a basketball coach,” he added.

Today, through the Sports Authority of India, government initiatives such as TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme, established in 2014), federations and private organisations, athletes year-round care.

While cricket remains a priority for the corporate sector, money has been diverted to other sports as well as through corporate social responsibility, which was made mandatory in April 2014. “CSR it’s only 2% of the entire money spent on sports, but in Boppaiah say at least it’s coming and I’m sure in the next decade it could increase by 10-15%.

According to a study in June 2022, the sports industry is likely to hit the $100 billion mark by 2027. India’s sports budget has been increased to a 3,062.60 crore in 2022, a year without the Olympics. While even the TV coverage of the Olympics was erratic, the recently concluded CWG 2022 was broadcast on multiple platforms with live streams for almost every sport, including throw grass.

Model conversion

One of the greatest victories of Indian sport is the success of female track and field athletes. They fought very different battles but rarely backed down.

Malleswari broke the Olympic barrier at the turn of the century, and at the last three Olympics, Indian women’s athletes have contributed to raising the total number of medals. In Rio, in 2016, India’s only female to win two medals – PV Sindhu’s silver and Sakshi Malik’s bronze. “Look at the sports that women are good at – boxing, weightlifting, wrestling,” says Boppaiah. They broke all stereotypes about women, strength and sports. can do today. “

A similar paradigm shift has occurred in para sports over the past five years. In Tokyo, India won 19 medals, including five golds, seven more than the total of all previous competitions. Javelin star Devendra Jhajharia won her third medal (two gold and one silver) to become the most decorated athlete in the Olympics or Paralympics from India. “There was a time when a disabled person walked into the playground and people would ask, ‘What are you going to do here? ,” Jhajharia told Mint in a previous interview.“Now, people with disabilities are encouraged to play sports. “

The way forward

Despite the progress, some familiar barriers persist, like corporate apathy and federation mismanagement. Just this year, three of the major national federations – hockey, football and table tennis – were dissolved and placed under the control of the CoA (Committee of Administration). Vimal Kumar said: “Companies are still only involved in cricket,” In badminton we are now world champions but BAI (Badminton Association of India) has no sponsor yet. Our athletes need that support and care.”

For Malleswari, India’s first women’s world champion, even these conversations are a welcome sign.

“There was a time when even our coaches didn’t have much faith. At the 1995 world championship in Guangzhou, I beat a Chinese girl to win the gold medal. When I stepped onto the podium, I realized our support staff hadn’t brought the national anthem tape because no one expected us to win. I stood on the podium and sang the national anthem myself.” From the end of the awards ceremony at Malleswari in 1995 to Mirabai at Birmingham 2022, the country has come a long way. The torch has been lit.

Deepti Patwardhan is a sports writer living in Mumbai.

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