Monday, August 18, 2008

India in Olympics- In the past

For those who have followed India fortune in Olympics for many decades, Indians used to pride themselves that they were the best in the world in Hockey, and that would cover up for their ineptitude in other sports. In typical India style hype, handed over to us for hundreds of generations, we were also told that Milkha Singh was the best runner in the world ( unfortunate not to win a medal). But the biggest hype that we were fed was that Dara Singh, the wrestler was the strongest man in the world, and if he did not participate in Olympics then it was because he was a professional. Another version was that Dara Singh did not participate in Olypics because it was beneath his dignity to participate among such lowly opponents.

Come 1970s and India stopped winning gold in Hockey too. And in any case Indians were just not good enough in any other Olympic sports. During those days, India had won three test series in a row, and some Indian fans actually thought that India was the number 1 cricket team in the world.

Come 1974, and Indian team was beaten black and blue in England. The fact that Indians did not have a pace bowler hurt their cause badly, as even mediocre batsmen made merry against the Indian bowling attack. Indian spinner Chandrashekhar was the quickest bowler in the side.It is like Kumble being the quickest bowler in the present day team, that is how pedestrian the Indian pace bowling attack used to be.

India sucking in Hockey as well as cricket meant that India sports fans were a dejected lot. The negative thinkers were on to their familiar rhetoric- " We are world's second most populous nation, and we cannot win a medal. Look at small nations, they win so may medals." Others would say that India did not win medals because there was so much poverty, and so much corruption in the country.But there were countries poorer and more corrupt than India that were doing better than India in Olympics. So it would be said that Indians were weak because of their dietary habits, for instance they did not eat meat in general and beef in particular. But then our neighbouring countries which had no such dietary taboos were not doing any better than India in Olympics either. Then apologists would point out that Pakistanis had fast bowlers in their ranks and Indians did not have.

Some fans actually thought that Dara Singh, the strongest man in the world, should be included in the Indian cricket team to bowl fast. Experts said that it was not a wise move, because in cricket you do not have to wrestle with the ball.

Just as there was this myth about Dara Singh being the strongest man in the world, there was this counter myth that Muhammad Ali, the heaveyweight boxer was a Pakistani. My argument that he was an American, cut no ice with my school mates, who simply refused to believe me.

Then there were the proponents of past Indian glory who would suggest that India was the greatest country in the world in all spheres, including sports in the past, and it was the conspiracy of the European invaders like British etc that the native know how and skills in all fields, including sports was lost.

Another suggestion was that India would certainly do well if Indian native games like kabaddi, khokho, marbles etc were included in Olympics.

What about the thinking in the official circles? The IAS babus sitting in the corridor of powers would ensure their smooth and unobtrusive participation in Olympic games as officials, whereas the actual players would be running from pillar to post,first to willy nilly qualify, and then to get the paperworks ready.

Qualifying for the Olympics was the main aim of the players. If players of other teams thought about qualifying for finals in the Olympics,then India players thought well in advance, and finished their thinking well in advance too. The thought uppermost in their minds was to somehow achieve the qualifying mark which was arbitrarily set low enough, something like the mark achieved by third place finisher in the previous Olympics or so. And interesingly, a few of the participants actually managed to "meet" these marks. Of course, once they actually participated in the Olympics, they would come nowhere near the mark that helped them qualify for the Olympics.

The Indian officials and media maintained that participation in Olympics would give Indian sportsmen good exposure that would help them gain experience. Was Olympics about winning or about getting experience and exposure ? Gaining experience and exposure for what ? For Asian games ? But such rubbish was actually bought by all without any murmurs.

There was a "celebrated" case in 1984 Olympics when one Indian weighlifter qualified to participate in a certain weight category, but when it was time for his participation in his event, he was found overweight. And what did the Indian contingent do? They fielded him in the next higher weight category. Simple !

Having discussed Indian Olympic efforts in the past, I will discuss what Indian needs to do in future, in my next article.

1 comment:

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