Men’s sport in India may be in need of urgent bucking up — an Olympic medal has not been won since London 2012. In this period, spanning the Games in London, Rio and Tokyo, Indian sportswomen have added seven medals across four sports. PV Sindhu has now become the first Indian woman to win a medal at successive Games. The success of women at the Olympics has meant a broadening of the pyramid base from the traditional hubs. It isn’t just the wrestlers from Haryana, gymnasts from the east, shuttlers from Hyderabad and lifters from Manipur. Tokyo 2020 has also turned the glittering spotlight on a fencer from Chennai and a boxer from Assam. With the best of sport now available on smartphones, ease of communication because of social media and hyper-efficient search engines, there’s no telling when and where a dream gets kindled, watching women sports stars perform and win consistently.
Gymnast Dipa Karmakar didn’t just dream up a high difficulty vault for the Rio Olympics, she took her effort to the logical conclusion, came within striking distance of a medal. Sindhu ensured that Saina Nehwal’s bronze was upgraded to silver and elevated badminton to a mainline television sport, before she returned to the Olympics for a bounce-back bronze. Perhaps the greatest first day at the Olympics for India was when Mirabai Chanu demolished her demons of failure from four years ago to chase down a weightlifting silver, a score of years after Karnam Malleswari’s feat barely registered. Mary Kom refuses to go gently into the fading dusk of her career at 38. Another pugilist from the Northeast, Lovlina Borgohain from Assam, has picked up the baton. At the start of Week 2, all eyes are on wrestler Vinesh Phogat, five years after Sakshi Malik salvaged India’s twelve-day-long zero count at Rio. Most hearteningly, India’s women’s hockey team has come to the party, beating mighty Australia.
It seems women go to the Olympics focussing on the podium, and work backwards on the effort needed to get as close to the target as possible. Keenly aware of the deficiencies of opportunities and facilities, and of the slim chances they might be afforded given societal traditions, they don’t waste time to get going. Like Nehwal and Mirabai, they take disappointment to heart, and return to work harder. Like Lovlina and Sakshi, they go out there, fearless but without hubris, not giving themselves the cushioning of a “next time” — the sort of second-chances, for instance, that this time’s medalless Olympic debutant Saurabh Chaudhary or Amit Panghal might be glibly given. PT Usha, Sania Mirza, Anju Bobby George — they are not just bright stars streaking across TV screens, but role models for countless young women. PV Sindhu went to eight majors and brought home medals from seven. India’s sportswomen deliver on their promises, time and again. They get the job done.