Friday, August 19, 2016

Rio Olympics - Indian Girls Shine Bright, Win Hearts and Show The Way

It was fantastic to watch the expression of disbelief on Sakshi Malik's face and then the huge smile on her face as she pulled off one of the most unexpected wins coming from behind from a  0-5 deficit in her wrestling match. And as she laughed, hid her face in the Indian flag, one felt the one thing that connects us all - that flag, that sense of something of 'ours' excelling, that involuntary tug at the heart. We felt it when India won the World up, when Azhar scored his first century, when Prakash Padukone won the All England and so on and on. A bronze, but its a hard earned medal. To get it from a girl from Haryana, is even more heartening.

Then the way Sindhu played from her first game onwards and continues to play - all focus on the process, terrific precision in her play, superb athleticism and preparation - she is clearly there because she prepared better and she knows it. She looks fitter, easily better prepared mentally, physically and skill wise. Such intense play, such fierce concentration and such domination is tough to beat and she looks good for a gold. What's even more wonderful to watch apart from her desire to win every point is the hearty, smiling interviews she gives patiently after the games with no airs, no frills, no sense of look-at-me-I-am-the-star and I-made-it-despite-all-you-guys. She is simple and down to earth, enjoying the game and the moment. She is the only one I have seen who is not strapped with some bandage, who has had no injury issues and is striding around as if the court belongs to her. It does. I can't wait to see her get the gold medal tomorrow.

Sindhu has a huge fan at home now. Anjali has made all kinds of placards, hangs around with her racket while her game is on and copies every move of hers which is pretty tiring and then cheers her after the point with the placard.

And then I watched Dipa Karmakar's wonderful performances and was amazed at her courage, skill, competence as well as her composure at missing out on a medal despite a good solid performance under pressure. She laughed in that brilliant way she does and left the Rio Olympics with her head held high. Just as Srikanth Kidambi did after a lion hearted effort. I was fortunate to watch Lalita Babar lead the 3000 m women's steeplechase pack, and hold on despite some really tough competition to make the finals. Then I see Aditi Ashok in golf and so many names I am so proud to see in their respective line ups. These athletes have made it despite poor infrastructure, little support from family and from sports bodies, have little to look forward to once Rio is over except their own made desire to make something out of their skill, their hard work. No one goes to lose, everyone works for the big stage. There is no questioning the heart. It boils down to processes. If we can just get the sports bodies cleaned up just like the Lodha Committee is promising to do in cricket, sportspersons can go and express themselves. And also take some selfies if they like. They earned it.

Now that the girls have put to rests all doubt about who is wearing the pants in India, with its increasingly male chauvinistic attitudes, by winning medals where it counts, all those who think they are the ones wearing the pants can now take a good look at themselves. Courage, bravery, patriotism can be shown by performing, by sacrificing and not by putting up facebook posts, beating up innocents, harassing the weak. Brilliant job girls.

A unforgettable sight for me is the way P Gopichand handles his wards. Calm, composed, all prepared, no stone unturned, always supportive, he has done what all other sports bodies, sports greats, ministries have not been able to do. On his own, he is the only champion player to have produced so many more champions and it is incredible to even conceive what he has done. The players from Hyderabad completely dominate the shuttle badminton scene - Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth, Kashyap, Reddy, Ashwini, Jwala and I am missing more names - and he certainly had something to do with them at one time or another. What Gopichand seems to have done is to find the process, the method of preparation, the building of infrastructure, the availability of good quality coaches and he is churning out the champions like a production line. It's as good as Hyderabad versus the Rest of the World and for that this man deserves all credit. Bigger bodies, ministries are not able to produce champions despite having more resources at their disposal. He is also the one champion sportsperson to have produced so many champions as a coach. All other sportspersons have disappeared or taken up lucrative positions behind the mike or in sports bodies. For just that Gopichand is a true leader. He deserves a unique award for producing so many champions. Reserved, calm, clear and restrained, Gopichand ought to write a book on how he coaches and churns out champions. That book can be followed by all organisations - sports and non-sports blindly.

As the Olympics come to the last days, we cannot ignore the reality. On such a big stage only truly champion like preparation will hold. Gopichand, Nandy, Malik, the Belarusian coach who coached Lalita Babar have put Tripura, Hyderabad, Haryana and other places on the map - the wards have performed thanks to their dedicated coaches. 

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