India's Middling Olympic Performance

Save for badminton, women’s boxing and shooting, performances were way below expectations

Published: Aug 15, 2012 06:10:44 AM IST
Updated: Aug 16, 2012 10:50:34 AM IST
India's Middling Olympic Performance
Image: Getty Images
Indiaç—´ MC Mary Kom (in red) defends against Nicola Adams of Great Britain (in blue) during the womenç—´ Flyweight boxing semi-finals

True, it is the best-ever medal haul from India. A tally of four medals with one silver and three bronze is greater than the three won four years ago, but the absence of a gold makes it look thinner in quality. (India's challenge in wrestling was yet to begin at the time of writing this article for the magazine)

The Indian story of the Games may well be MC Mary Kom. This, in a manner of speaking, was her first and last shot at glory. She was the face her sport used to get women’s boxing into the Olympic agenda.

The 29-year-old mother of two has been candid enough to admit that she virtually lived to see the sport come to Olympic Games. And when it did, the federation and International Olympic Committee limited it to three weight categories—the lowest of which was still way above the one where Mary Kom had achieved all her glory.

Yet, Mary Kom was resilient enough to fight in a higher category. From 45 kg, where she began her career in 2001, she moved to 46 and then 48. At the Olympics she had to fight in the 51kg category. Shorter, and possessing metabolism that makes it difficult to gain weight, Mary Kom literally punched way above her weight.

She lost out to the eventual champion, Britain’s Nicola Adams. Still smiling in defeat, Mary Kom stole the hearts of 1.2 billion Indians by apologising for not winning a gold or silver.  

Hey Mary, thank you for staying on for so long, when you could well have been forgiven for missing the Olympics and arranging for your twin sons’ fifth birthday party on the day you fought your first bout at the Olympics.

Shuttling to Glory
In a sport where Chinese intrigue dominates, Saina Nehwal has broken through in a manner reminiscent of Prakash Padukone making his way past a wall that had bricks of Indonesian, Chinese and Danish make embedded in it.

Back in the 1980s, when Padukone ploughed a lone furrow, it was him against the dominant Indonesians and a sprinkling of Chinese and Danish stars. Now it is Saina versus the Chinese.

Four years ago, as an 18-year-old, Saina was upset and on the verge of crying as she let go of an 11-4 lead and lost in the quarter-finals of the women’s singles at Beijing. Now as a 22-year-old, she is mature beyond her years, and knows what an Olympic medal can do for her sport in India.

If she has any doubts on that, Pullela Gopichand, her coach, and one of the only two Indians to win the All England title, says, “This medal was important. Saina can and will do better, but an Olympic medal can change the face of Indian badminton. We have the depth and we need to nurse it for Rio [2016].” What he makes clear without saying it in so many words is that he also wants to take on the Chinese.

Saina got the bronze when her opponent Wang Xin conceded after the first game on account of injury. But the medal should come without an asterisk, for Saina is among the fittest in her sport and she was showing all signs of fighting her way back as she moved from 14-20 to 18-20 before losing the first game.

Saina’s performance may have overshadowed Parupalli Kashyap’s historic entry into men’s singles quarter-finals, but he has it in him to go higher. Jwala Gutta and V Diju may not have done justice to themselves in mixed doubles, but Jwala and Ashwini Ponappa came within a whisker of making the knock-outs and they had it in them to challenge for a medal for, last year they won a bronze at the same venue in World Championships.

India Can Become a World Force in Badminton

Badminton seems to produce a string of modest superstars. Prakash Padukone, the late Syed Modi, Pullela Gopichand and now Saina Nehwal. And there are a few more in the assembly line.

Padukone started it back in 1994 with his Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy. Gopichand started his academy around 2004. Now between the two academies, results are beginning to show.

Soon after Nehwal’s medal-winning performance , Gopichand said, “An Olympic medal will raise awareness and bring in more sponsors overall for the sport.”

There is no denying the fact that India is slowly but steadily growing into a major force in badminton.

“There are a lot of youngsters coming up. It is tough to single out players, but there are players like PV Sindhu (No 26 among women), Sourabh Varma, Sameer Varma, Guru Saidutt and many others,” adds Gopichand, when pushed for names.

For the record, India has 10 players in the world’s top-100 among men, the same as Malaysia, while China has only five (but all are in the top-20). Denmark has nine in the top-100 and Indonesia seven. So, that should make India a badminton superpower. The only difference is that none of the Indians are in top-20, but it is only a matter of time before this talent explodes onto the world stage. Among women, India, led by Saina Nehwal, has four in the world’s top-100 and another two at No. 101 and 104.

Shooting Keeps the Streak Going
Shooting brought India a medal for the third successive Games. Beginning with Rajyavardhan Rathore’s silver in Athens, the winning streak continued with a gold from Abhinav Bindra in Beijing. There was no gold this time, but there were two medals—a bronze from Gagan Narang, and a silver from Vijay Kumar, who understandably felt hurt that he has been described as a ‘surprise’ medallist.

Fourth in the two-day qualification, the rules of his event stipulated that all finalists begin with a clean slate once again. Kumar stayed among the top-3 all through the final.

The medal did not surprise Kumar, who said, “I am the National champion since 2004; I won two gold medals with new Games Record in 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games; a gold and a bronze in Doha Asiad and a Silver in world Championship in China, three gold and a silver in 2010 Commonwealth Games and two bronze in Guangzhou Asian Games. So, if my medal has still surprised people and media I can’t help it.”

For Narang, who has tasted success in every major competition, a bronze might have seemed small compensation.

Ronjan Sodhi’s participation and failure in double trap elicited unfair and veiled barbs. But considering these were his first Games and he shot very well for 72 of the 75 shots before faltering in the last three, he does not deserve to be dismissed.

The collective story of ‘so-near-and-yet-so-far’ belonged to shooter Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth in 50m prone, and to boxers Devendro Singh and Vijender Singh, who lost in quarter-finals, one bout away from a bronze medal. Discus duo Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia may have made the final, which was creditable, but a medal was always out of their reach.

Of the three who won medals four years ago, gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and bronze medallist Vijender failed to land another medal. Sushil Kumar, who was still to get into the ring at the time of writing, does have a chance in 66 kg freestyle wrestling.

Athletes, barring the discus duo Vikas Gowda in men and Krishna Poonia among women, who made the final, were disappointing. The tennis contingent did little to justify the brouhaha they created at the time of selection. The much-hyped archery contingent of six never progressed beyond the second round and the hockey team was unable to win a single league game.  

The rest like table tennis, judo, rowing, swimming and weightlifting did what they were expected to—which was making up numbers.

A different Wimbledon
The strawberries and cream were there and so was the rain. But you will never see another Olympic match at Wimbledon. Nor will you see tennis players in colourful clothing or a Wimbledon with no Pimms.

The ‘Home of Tennis” wore a different look. The green backdrops made way for the purple screens with the London 2012 logo and Olympic rings in white. The ‘whites only’ Wimbledon clothing code was set aside as players turned out in national colours. Serena Williams was dressed in patriotic red, white and blue stars and stripes, while Roger Federer marked the Swiss National Day in red shirt, red bandana and white shorts.

The grassed Aorangi Terrace, known as Henman Hill, too, was changed as the floral Wimbledon logo was replaced by a colourful Olympic rings display. There was no Pimms either, because they are not the sponsors!

Image: Mike Blake / Reuters

 ‘Titanic’ survivor’s 88-year-old reign ends in mixed doubles
When Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi of Belarus won the mixed doubles, they took over from the reigning Olympic mixed doubles champions Richard Norris Williams and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman of the US, who won the gold when the event was last played in 1924. It ended their 88-year-old reign.

Williams, who died in June 1968, was a survivor from the Titanic, which went down in 1912, exactly a 100 years ago. Williams spent more than six hours in the freezing waters of the Atlantic before his rescue. He was told that his legs might have to be amputated. But he preferred to walk in pain and the rest is history.

Williams, brought up in Switzerland, and his father, Charles Duane Williams were going to America on the Titanic to play tournaments during the summer before enrolling at Harvard University that autumn. Charles was killed in the Titanic disaster.

Not only did Richard Williams refuse to accept amputation, he walked through pain and seven weeks later won the Pennsylvania state championship followed by the clay court championships. He went on to become No 2 in the US by end 1912. In 1914, he won the US Open beating another Titanic survivor Karl Behr, also from US, in the quarterfinals.

Omega times it with Dicken’s bicentenary
The House of St Barnabas, an 18th century Georgian townhouse on Soho Square, has been providing support for the homeless for 160 years. This house also has a connection to Charles Dickens, whose bicentenary is being marked this year. This house was used as a model for the London lodgings of Dr Manette and Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities, which contrasts life in London and Paris around the time of the French Revolution.

The house in Soho has one of the very few remaining private gardens, called the Secret Garden and it is now the Omega House for the Olympics. The Garden has a large screen TV; guests can relax and watch events or simply party.

Each room has been designed to complement a watch collection. The space-themed Speedmaster Room, for example, was named after the first watch worn on the moon in 1969 by Buzz Aldrin.

This venue was originally an accommodation for the homeless. In 2006, it was closed and re-launched as a ‘for-hire’ event venue and life skills centre. The revenue generated is used for charity. Much of the stylish re-modelling done by Omega will stay and enhance the value of the House after the Games.

British soldier rows to gold,  looks forward to posting in  Afghanistan
British soldiers, who did duty in Afghanistan, have been requisitioned at various places by the LOCOG. They also contributed a gold medal through Heather Stanning, a Sandhurst-trained officer in the Royal Artillery, who had been on special training leave since 2010. But once the competition is over, the 27-year-old has set her sights on a posting to Helmand, a province in Afghanistan. Stanning was cheered by her Army comrades in Afghanistan as she won Britain’s first rowing gold at Eton Dorney. She has been enrolled on the unit’s next tour of the war-torn province. She will be deployed later next year.

Image: Eric Feferberg / Reuters

 Away from prying eyes, a Safe  House for athletes
Oakley, the eyewear company, has since 1996 been running its ‘Athlete Safehouse’ where limited non-athletic guests are invited, simply because it is a place where athletes can spend time with family and friends, who otherwise cannot visit them in the Olympic Village. Athletes from all over the globe drop in to catch a meal, meet friends and surf the net.

Thee SafeHouse, where athletes can also get their customised eyewear assembled, took more than two-and-a-half years and millions of dollars to prepare. Staffed by over 40 people, it is located right next to Tower Bridge at the posh London Design Museum.

 IOC looks at coaches, too, in badminton controversy
Badminton had its moment—well, much more than a moment—of shame as players indulged in ‘match-fixing’ in front of millions of viewers in women’s doubles badminton. The players were disqualified and sent home, but an upset International Olympic Committee is taking the matter further ahead, and has asked for an inquiry into the coaches and team officials.

Image: Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters

“We have asked to look into it to see if there are any issues to answer similarly for the coaches,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “It’s important to make sure it’s not just the athletes that are punished.”

Eight women badminton players, including four from Korea and two each from China and Indonesia were disqualified for trying to lose their group matches in a bid to secure favourable draw in the knock-out stage.

Li Yongbo, head coach of the Chinese badminton team, apologised in public. “As the head coach, I owe the fans and the Chinese an apology,” Li said. “Chinese players failed to demonstrate their fighting spirit. It’s me to blame.”

Not bitter-sweet, but  “bitter-tweet” !

On the day of the Double Trap, 2004 Athens silver medallist Rajyavardhan Rathore tweeted: “The two other WR holders are in the finals: Fokeev of RUS and Peter of UK.. Ind Shooting federation decided to keep the 3rd WR holder out.” The reference was to himself, as he shares the world record! For the record, Peter Wilson won the gold, and India’s Ronjan Sodhi, who shot a blank in his third last shot, failed to make the final.

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(This story appears in the 31 August, 2012 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • J.rajan Vedasiromoni

    INDIA in London 2012 Olympics : The pros and cons. While watching the Olympics in ESPN, STAR and DD Sports, one can see and hear often the Hero advertisement conveying best wishes to the Indian Contingent and every Indian is moved by the advertisement. Unfortunately the story ends there. The only time we Indians got a chance to listen to our National Anthem is before the start of every men's hockey match which India played and ironically India lost quite convincingly all the six games played. We Indians didn't get a chance to hear the National Anthem played not even once during the medal giving ceremony. It is not that the pride of the Nation and its people is punctured, but there needs to be some introspection so that in future our sports persons don't disappoint the common people. Let us analyze the events one by one. Hockey: The whole Nation was elated when India qualified for the London Olympics after failing to do so for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But what a disappointment for the Indian fans! Our hockey team failed miserably in all the five league matches losing to Netherlands 3-2 (good hockey was played by India for 10 minutes when they scored two goals), New Zealand 3-1, Germany 5-2, Korea 4-1 and Belgium 3-0 and the playoff match for 11th and 12th positions losing to South Africa 3-2 thus getting the wooden spoon. This is the first time in the history of Olympic hockey that India has failed to win even one match in the tournament. What a disgrace to a Nation which regularly used to have a podium finish in the Olympics till the 70s. Now what ails Indian hockey! First let us see what our past players have to say! Jagbir Singh remarked, "It was a pain to watch a team with lot of potential playing so poorly. Its time Indian players realize that we play not for the gallery but for gold"BAD 9D2E Mir Ranjan Negi was more caustic. He expressed, "The whole nation is shocked. It is difficult to believe that India fared so poorly. Even an ordinary team from the country could have performed better than this"BAD 9D2E The coach of the team Michael Nobbs was more forthcoming and candid. He remarked, "We"ve got some players out there just wanting to be Olympians, but international hockey demands the heart for a fight. The players need to make a decision whether they are satisfied just to be Olympians and return home, or are they willing to be tough and make that commitment for the teams cause"BAD 9D2E Pargat Singh, one of the all time greats, summed up, "We shall never win if players continue to have egos and play like individuals"BAD 9D2E Watching the matches played by India, almost all viewers will agree that most of the players played for the gallery as opined by Jagbir Singh. Looking at the way most of the Indian players kept the ball to themselves without passing it to a team mate who is in a better position, the viewers often got confused as to whether hockey is a team game in which 11 players play or a one man game. So what is the remedy? Select youngsters impartially from all over the country, provide them all facilities, train them with the latest methods of coaching and imbibe in them the point that hockey is a team game and when they represent the country they are not playing for the gallery but for the pride of the Nation. Badminton: Our badminton players have done our country proud. It was really great to watch Saina Nehwal and Kashyap Parupalli play their matches. Though Kashyap lost to the world number one in the quarter-finals, he played his heart out. Saina finished with the bronze medal after giving a very good and close fight to a higher ranked player in the semi-finals. As the badminton coach Pullela Gopi Chand remarked "Saina's this achievement is a huge boost for badminton in India"BAD 9D2E Though the mixed doubles and the women's doubles teams could not perform well, overall there is a bright future for badminton in India. Saina's and Kashyap's performance is sure to encourage a host of youngsters to take up the game seriously. This has to be utilized to the maximum and we should try to have the maximum permissible number of teams and players in all the badminton events in the next Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro in 2018. Tennis: This is a game in which disaster struck much before the game started. Two of our players who have played for more than two decades and who are in the twilight of their professional carrier, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, took their personal like and dislike to center stage above National pride. The net result was that there was a lot of mudslinging and commotion before the final team was announced. Ultimately Paes was to partner Sania in the mixed doubles though Bhupathi and Sania won the mixed doubles in the French open 2012. This was done to appease Paes with whom both Bhupathi and Bopanna refused to partner in the men's doubles event and Paes had to partner with the lowly rated Vishnu Vardhan. Yelling that she has been used as bait in this issue, Sania extracted her pound of flesh in that the authorities had to include Sania's mother as a member of the back-up team for tennis. So everything was lost in tennis for India much before the commencement of the game and the final result was as per expected lines. What for the future! Groom a fresh group of youngsters, train them and imbibe in them the feeling that playing for the Nation is above personnel likes and dislikes. As far as sportsman spirit is concerned these youngsters should be taught to follow the footsteps of Naresh Kumar, Ramanathan Krishnan, Jaideep Mukherjee, Premjit Lal, Vijay Amirtharaj and Ramesh Krishnan. Archery: This is another game in which much was expected. However, in spite of sincere efforts by our players, we could not reach the quarterfinals in any event. This may be due to the players not getting properly acclimatized to the conditions at the venue. In the opinion of many this is one game in which India can have a bright future provided proper initiatives are taken by the concerned authorities. Archery equipments are quite expensive. The authorities should concentrate to select capable youngsters from regions like Bihar and Jharkhand for the game and provide proper equipments and training to them. Many people feel that this is one game in which India will be getting medals in the forthcoming Olympic games. Shooting: Shooting, which used to be a game mainly played by the maharajas, nawabs and their clans, has become a popular game for the common man, mainly from the armed forces, and it is one game which has been fetching medals for the country in the recent past including the London Olympics. Vijay Kumar got silver. From a neutral point of view it is felt that had Vijay Kumar shot first in the final round he would have won the gold. As his opponent began the final round scoring all 5, there was no scope for Vijay Kumar to overtake him. Narang Gagan got a bronze as it was probably not his day. This is one game which has to be encouraged continuously and this game also will be one in which India can hope to get a handful of medals in the future games. BOXING: It is a revelation that India had a number of boxers in the Olympics including one woman, Mary Kom whose indomitable effort fetched the country a bronze medal. A mother of twins her achievement is sure to encourage a number of women mainly from the north east of the country to take up this game. Our men boxers have not lagged far behind. Each of them has given his 100% in their matches. So this is another game the status quo needs to be maintained so that more medals come in the future Olympics. Wrestling: It is from our traditional akharas mainly from the central and northern parts of the country that National wrestlers emerge. Our wrestlers have been doing proud for the country. Sushil Kumar won the silver in the 66 kg freestyle competition, thus becoming the first Indian to win medals in two successive Olympics and Yogeshwar Dutt clinched the bronze medal in the 60 kg freestyle competition. He said that his body had given up but his spirit kept him going as he fought three opponents in less than an hour to clinch a bronze medal in the Olympic. That is the spirit. Our other wrestlers also fought valiantly with more superior opponents. This is another game in which our tricolor is expected to unfurl in the succeeding Olympic games. Athletics, rowing, sailing, canoeing, swimming, table tennis, etc. All our players tried their level best. But the gap between the front runners and our players is so big that it may take quite some time for our players to match the performance of the podium finishers. However, we should continue to send all those who qualify for the particular event. Overall, all is not lost. There is plenty of hope for our players to do wonders in the succeeding Olympic games. While a Vijender Singh has created interest in many in boxing, a Rathore has made many to take up shooting and a Sushil Kumar has kindred interest in wrestling in many in the recent past, a Saina will make many youngsters interested in badminton, a Mary Kom will boost boxing among women, a Vijay Kumar and Narang Gagan are sure to kindle interest in many to take up shooting and a Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt will enthuse quite a number of athletes to take up wrestling in the near future. Of course all will depend on the proper and impartial back up provided by the concerned authorities. India is bound to shine brighter in the succeeding Olympics. Finally those who represent the country should have the Triple D that is Determination, Dedication and Diligence.

    on Aug 15, 2012
    • Ganesh Jaygan

      This comment warrants to be an article in its own right. Well done. Wonderful analysis.

      on Aug 21, 2012
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