Rio Olympics highlights: Ten moments that defined the Games for Indian contingent
Rio 2016 has come and gone. The Games in Brazil had its good, bad, and ugly moments in abundance. While old hands Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps completed their indelible Olympic legacies, we also witnessed the birth of a future hall of famer in Simone Biles. There wasn't much to write home about from an Indian perspective, but the 119-strong contingent gave all it had.
As we now look ahead to Tokyo 2020, here are ten moments that defined India's performance in Samba nation.
Silver girl PV Sindhu: Like Abhinav Bindra in 2008 and Sushil Kumar in 2012, the 21-year-old shuttler will be remembered as the face of India's Rio campaign. After beating higher-ranked opponents in the quarters and semis, Sindhu fought tooth and nail in the final against Carolina Marin. Just watching her go toe-to-toe with the world's best would have inspired a whole new generation of Indian athletes.
Sakshi Malik's gutsy bronze: The Haryana girl was solely responsible for lifting the damp spirits of the Indian contingent after a horrific first week. The 23-year-old's spirited display during the repechage was truly awe-inspiring. Sakshi fought till the very last second, giving every ounce of her energy. In a sense, she served as an inspiration to Sindhu ahead of her semi-final.
Shobhaa De's insensitive remark: While her tweet mocking Team India was grossly insensitive, the columnist and author unified the Indian sports fans like nothing else. At a time when disappointment was writ large on Indian faces, that one comment from De helped rally voices in support of all athletes irrespective of their performances. De of course backtracked later and even apologized after India secured two medals.
Apathy of Indian officials: The babus of Indian sports made headlines right through the Olympic run. From sports ministers descending on Rio with their entourages to radiologists in the garb of sports medicine doctors accompanying the athletes, the fault lines of India's Olympic Movement were there for all to see. In a sense, the receptions accorded to athletes by various governments typifies our attitude to Olympic sport. While the Sindhus and Sakshis were hailed, the Bhokanals and Babars conveniently forgotten.
Wrestling fiasco: While the women's contingent was a tad unlucky due to Vinesh Phogat's injury, the blame for no Indian challenge in the men's 74 kg category lies squarely on Wrestling Federation of India. Narsingh Yadav was cruelly ousted hours before his first bout, while Sushil Kumar was stationed as an expert in a TV studio back home. That said it all. The WFI is a complete mess and now runs the risk of going down the boxing route.
Shooting shocker: NRAI boss Raninder Singh predicted at least three medals from his 12-member shooting contingent. Indian shooters entered the competition with a high graph but crumbled spectacularly under pressure. Barring Abhinav Bindra and Mairaj Khan, there was no performance of note from the team. After the post-mortem, Singh pinned the blame on the federation's decision to allow shooters to train with personal coaches for this dismal show.
Dazzling Dipa Karmakar: Dipa's was the most heart-warming story of Rio 2016. Amidst the talk of lack of money and missing world-class infrastructure, the Tripura girl demonstrated that it was possible to succeed despite the system. She may not have returned with a medal, but her dazzling display in Rio was as iconic as Milkha Singh's in Rome 1960 and PT Usha's in Los Angeles 1984. This is one fourth place finish the country won't forget in a hurry.
Corporate funding: Both the Indian medalists at Rio 2016 relied heavily on corporate support to rise through the ranks. While Olympic Gold Quest backed Sindhu from the age of 14, Sakshi is a JSW Sports athlete. The government has pumped in big money via schemes likes TOPS but it lacks the mechanism and know-how to track and monitor whether the funds are being judiciously spent. It is now amply clear the non-profits like Lakshya Foundation, Anglian Medal Hunt and Go Sports will produce future Indian medal winners.
Heroes defying the odds: The stories of Dattu Bokanal and Lalita Babar are now well documented. The country owes them a huge debt of gratitude for what they achieved in their respective disciplines. Moreover, this duo entered unchartered territories in sports that had no Indian heroes. Lalita and Dattu have not just helped kids dream in their village, but across rural India. Future Indian rowing and steeplechase Olympic medal winners will have them to thank for.
Several near misses: Contrary to popular belief, Rio 2016 wasn't an utter disaster. The rub of the green didn't go India's way in competitions of wafer-thin margins. Unlike previous Olympics, an Indian athlete was in medal contention on each day of the event. Dipa amd Abhinav finished fourth, while Sania Mirza/Rohan Bopanna and Vikas Krishan lost medal contests. All these results could have easily gone the other way. Such is Olympic sport.