Seventh heaven: India signs off on Tokyo Olympics with promise of bright future

Team India's Neeraj Chopra celebrates winning the gold medal
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Team India’s Neeraj Chopra celebrates winning the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw final on the fifteenth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 07, 2021

It started with a bang, thinned down the middle and then ended with the kind of spectacular fireworks that make historical events grand. India was literally on a roller-coaster during the Tokyo Olympics.

So, there was the first medal in track-and-field that was also the first gold in 13 years, the first hockey medal in 41 years, the first silver in weightlifting, the first boxing medal in nine years, the first woman to have two Olympic medals, debutants. The highest number of medals won, and the most medals ever won, all happened in a single game for India.

And it all happened at games that were troubled long before the opening ceremony, thanks to the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic. This all happened after a year-long shutdown, spoiling most of the training and competition schedules.

Impressive impressive? No, it was more than that.

India’s campaign at the Olympic Games was a story of human resilience in the form of sporting excellence and it unfolded on the opening day of the competitions, starting with Mirabai Chanu.

The Manipuri weightlifter stands only 4’11”, but picked up 202kg (87+115) and took a silver and put India on the medal tally, showing the world why size doesn’t matter and shouldn’t.

In his moment of glory, the phenomenal lifter was the epitome of perseverance. She left the same phase five years earlier in tears and despair, failing to enter a single legal elevator.

And there she was smiling as India’s first silver medalist in weightlifting on 24 July.

It was just the beginning of what the country needed but what followed was a lull.

Some of the top contenders were knocked out without any impact, the biggest disappointment being the 15-strong shooting contingent.

A lot of questions arose about his preparation, only one Saurabh Chaudhary managed to reach the final and none could reach the podium.

No one had a clear answer as to what went wrong, even though stories of factionalism, ego battles and petty differences started pouring in from different corners.

The Indian campaign seemed to have arrived early on a disaster note and would not be able to recover.

But along came PV Sindhu and put things back on track with the bronze.

The veteran Hyderabadi shuttler was looking to better the silver she won in the 2016 Games. She could not do so but became the first Indian woman to win two Olympic medals.

While she was at it, both hockey teams also showed stomachs for a fight after the initial setback.

And in the boxing ring, the heir to the iconic MC Mary Kom started shaping up to be Lovlina Borgohain (69kg).

The 23-year-old from Assam finished with a bronze medal on August 4 as the women worked to rebuild the momentum in the Indian camp. And it worked out wonderfully.

The very next day, Ravi Kumar Dahiya became only the second Indian wrestler to win a silver medal at the Games, but the first to do so on debut.

A few hours before that came the long-awaited hockey medal, a bronze worth its weight and wait in gold.

Manpreet Singh and his inspired teammates returned to memory in the play-offs against Germany and grew up hearing tales of greatness in the wake of a painful slowdown in the sport for a generation to sow the seeds of hockey’s resurgence in the country.

There were tears, joy, nostalgia and above all a new sense of pride as hockey was India’s sport before it declined and cricket replaced mind.

The stage looked set for a grand finale and it was Neeraj Chopra’s gold with the javelin, India’s first in 13 years overall and the first in athletics.

Bajrang Punia’s resolve paid off for him with a bronze medal on the wrestling mat as the debutant accepted the medal after being out of contention for the requisite gold medal.

Then there were those who fell prey to the curse of a fourth place finish. Her suffering as golfer Aditi Ashok was a story in itself and the women’s hockey team finished a long way off the podium, but not quite.

Hence, India’s performance in the Games was bigger than the unprecedented seven medals.

This reflects the confidence, which was best expressed by Chopra, when he owned the Olympic Stadium with his confidence during the final, in which the 90-meter man – the great Johannes Vetter – withered.

In Tokyo, to no one’s surprise, Indians who performed well were living up to the billings they had earned over the past three years.

Surprisingly some of them were falling short like shooters and archers.

And in this lies the story of the country’s progress in the field of sports. India is not quite there yet but is definitely getting one step closer at a time.

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