There has been a buzz around that Sania Mirza will be the first Indian woman to participate in four Olympic Games. However, if one scrutinises carefully, the fact stands false. It was, in fact, sprinter Shiny Wilson, a titan who was the first woman to represent India in four Olympics - 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. A career that spanned over 75 international competitions, Wilson also has three Asian Games, six Asian Championships and seven SAF Games to her name. The 56-year-old veteran athlete has collected 1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze in the Asian Games, as well as 7 gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze medals from the Asian Track and Field Meets.
Wilson is revered among the Indian athletics fraternity as a pathbreaker in more than one way. She was the first Indian track athlete to make it to the semifinal stage at the Olympics in the 1984 Los Angeles Games after she finished fourth in her heats of the 800m run. In the 1992 Barcelona Games, she became the first athletics team captain.
Shiny Wilson - at the centre (Source: TOI)
After marriage and childbirth, Wilson took no time to return to the track once again and produce an 800m National Record. She was one of the pioneers who had set the bar for Indian women athletes quite high.
In an exclusive conversation with the living legend, the always cheerful, Wilson expressed high hopes from the Indian athletics team at the Tokyo Olympics. "It has been a long wait for India to win an athletics medal at the Olympics. But this time, the hopes seem high. Today, our country boasts about athletes who are truly at par with the best in the world. I am quite confident that they will bring home a medal this time," says Wilson to The Bridge
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) named a 26-member squad for the Games in Tokyo.
Neeraj Chopra in men's javelin throw has put the expectations high for India with as brightest medal prospect in track and field. Chopra's ascend to be one of the bests in the world had started when he won Asian Games title and eventually improving on his throw. Whereas, a 22-year-old long jumper Murali Sreeshankar shot to promise when he jumped a promising distance of 8.26m at 2021 Federation Cup in Patiala, breaking the national record.
"Everyone is hopeful about Neeraj. He definitely is a medal prospect, but my eyes will also be glued on athletes like Sreeshankar, Tajinderpal Toor, Kamalpreet Kaur, who have shone to their peak performances right before the Olympics. Who knows what surprises they can pull off in Tokyo?" Wilson responded with conviction.
Wilson, who had participated in the Olympics for the last time in the 1996 Atlanta Games, recollects how athletics has changed over India's last two decades. "Even in 1996, just three of us went on to represent India in athletics. Things really started changing in 2000, when a 24-member team went to the Sydney Games. Today, an athlete spends more time in the national camp, and they invest quality time in training, preparing and analysing their opportunities. The government, the AFI have worked in tandem to give today's athletes a lot of encouragement. Many private players have also come in to the scene. In our times, it was even diffciult to arrange a glass of juice after a hard day's training. They have been progressing leaps and bound, the result of which we see today," she adds.
One of the star-studded candidates to have missed the Tokyo Olympics flight is India's sprint sensation Hima Das. A national camper, Hima pulled her muscle while competing in the 100m heats on the second day 60th National Senior Inter-State Athletics Championships at Patiala 10 days back. On the first day, she led the national women's 4x100m relay team to set a new meet record. Wilson echoes Das' thoughts that the 20-year-old will be able pull off a strong comeback because she still has time by her side. "Hima is just 20. She still has plenty of age by her side to showcase what a talent she is at the Olympics. If you remember, I competed in the 1996 Games at the age of 33, after the birth of my second daughter. So, there's nothing she should be worried about. If I can do it, Hima can do it as well. This is just the beginning for her."
Shiny WIlson (Source: The Telegraph)
Sprinter Dutee Chand, who qualified for the Games through her rankings, put up a spectacular show at the Indian Grand Prix 4, earlier last month, where she pulled off the timing of 11.17s to finish the women's 100m race - timing that was unprecedented in the history of Indian athletics. "In our days, we were running 400m and 800m races, nobody even had dared to take up 100m or 200m, where the competition was of immense pressure. Dutee instils unimaginable confidence within the athletics team and I strongly hope that this time, she will make it to the 100m semifinals in the Olympics."
Recounting her first Olympics journey, Wilson quips, "I became the national champion in the 800 metres a year before the Asian Games in Delhi. And in the 1982 Games, I broke the national record, which had instilled a lot of confidence in me and eventually guaranteed a place at the 1984 Olympics. However, the best part was where I set a record of becoming the first woman from India to enter the semi-final of the Olympics."
The track and field events at the Games will get underway from July 31 and will run through August 8 and the veteran concludes that the Indian athletes will keep her glued in front of the screen as she envisions records to be shattered at Tokyo.