Can the Commonwealth Games serve as a launching pad for NextGen Indian athletes?
With the Commonwealth Games acting more like an 'exposure competition' for bigger platforms like the World Championships and Olympics, can Indian athletes, make the most of it and strengthen India's status as a sporting nation?
In the span of two days, two Shankar's flew high and far to symbolise just how much India's trajectory to becoming a sporting nation has risen. Tejaswin Shankar jumped 2.22m over the bar in the high jump, while Murali Sreeshankar leapt 8.08m off the board in the long jump to finish at the podium. Both the jumpers created history. A couple of days back, the weightlifters too were lifting India's sporting prowess with each passing hour as medals started showering at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.
All of this when seen as a whole signifies how many Indian athletes now "BELIEVE" that India can be amongst the top sporting nations. Commonwealth Games could well become the best place to nurture our Next-Gen for the bigger challenges that are the World Championships and the Olympic Games. While India is unlikely to overhaul its loot from Gold Coast - a whopping 66 medals (a lot due to the presence of shooting in that edition), it's this sense of self-belief which is probably more significant than any number of medals.
Many would argue that Sreeshankar underperformed given his recent performances. But a medal at a major world event isn't a small matter. We forget that the Kerala jumper not so long ago was being criticized for collapsing under pressure. His under-par performance at the Tokyo Olympics put him under immense strain and he was being written off. Amidst all this, Sree and his father Murali, who is also his coach, never lost hope.
They continued to believe in themselves and the results followed. He is now a consistent 8m jumper and when he finds his strides a leap of 8.30 and beyond is in reach.
Tejaswin on the other hand came out like a warrior. He had to fight the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to get himself included in the CWG squad. And when he got a confirmation, he was running around to finish his visa process amongst other formalities instead of just focusing on training. However, it was this belief and confidence that he carried which helped him bag a bronze.
The self-belief mantra
This mantra of believing in oneself even during the worst of times was started in 2008. I remember boxer Vijender Singh once told me that when he went to the Beijing Games, all he cared about was having fun. He believed in his skills and was confident they would help him overcome any obstacle. Rest is history.
Yes, fair enough, we have been pumping a lot of money into the main disciplines like athletics, wrestling and boxing. So, let's talk about sports like lawn bowls, or even squash and one cannot forget swimming. A team of four women, with an average age of 37.5, had won a gold in a sport that was unknown until this precise moment. Since their gold medal, lawn bowls have been one of the most searched topics in sports in India. The win was also a big boost for India's push into women's sports.
And while we were digesting this unprecedented win, Saurav Ghosal won a bronze in squash. Yes, India has previously won medals in squash but we are steadily getting consistent in the medal-winning business.
One performance worth mentioning is Srihari Nataraj in swimming. While he would return medal-less from Birmingham, his performance was note-worthy at many levels. For starters, India is not for its swimming programme. But the number of qualifications at the Tokyo Olympics, followed up by Nataraj's performance is a good sign. India is slowly diving from the board and trying to touch the wall on the other side.
This Commonwealth Games could very well set a precedent for India to start treating this quadrennial event as an exposure competition to build its bench strength. Eventually, the results in CWG would then translate into the Olympics and other marquee events like the Asian Games.