Indian sportspersons showed self-belief at the Olympics to return with a record tally
India took on a golden glow at Tokyo on Saturday as Neeraj Chopra hurled the javelin to fetch the country its first Olympics gold in track and field. Neeraj’s winning effort at 87.58m capped the finest ever performance by Indian sportspersons in the quadrennial global stage. India won seven medals — one gold, two silvers and four bronzes — and cumulatively edged past the previous best of six at the 2012 London Games. For a country resigned to a meagre yield or none at the Olympics since its debut in 1900, the latest edition was laden with riches. At 23, Neeraj has the world at his feet and the skies to aim for. The Indian Army man has grown in stature, and to supplant German Johannes Vetter, until now the world’s best javelin thrower, was no mean task. Neeraj’s golden tryst was special at many levels; it was India’s maiden gold in athletics at the Olympics while Norman Pritchard had won two silvers in 1900. It was also India’s second individual gold at the Games after shooter Abhinav Bindra hit bullseye at Beijing in 2008. That Neeraj had previously won golds in the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are all pointers to a journey that is on cruise-mode while his coach Klaus Bartonietz keeps a close watch.
Neeraj’s dash of magic seasoned in sweat and muscle, found mirror-images within the Indian contingent. Wrestler Bajrang Punia won bronze in the men’s freestyle 65kg bout, pinning down Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov. It also bolstered India’s medals’ kitty that had prior contributions from Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, P.V. Sindhu and the men’s hockey team. What stood out was the Indian contingent’s belief that they can compete on level terms with their fancied rivals. It showed in Aditi Ashok’s golfing endeavour as she came tantalisingly close to silver before a rain-marred day out at the greens undid her rhythm and the Bangalorean finished at the fourth spot. When the curtains were lowered on the latest Olympics on Sunday, the India-story was largely driven by Neeraj, hockey-renaissance and women-power while shooting proved under-whelming. Among the rest, it was status quo as the United States of America and China led the medals tally with host Japan and Great Britain following while India was placed 48th in the table. Usain Bolt’s stardust was missed but Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah added zest while setting a new Olympic record of 10.61 seconds in the women’s 100m sprint. The pandemic delayed the Games by a year but it marches on unhindered while the fans look forward to the 2024 version at Paris.