India finished its 2018 Asian Games campaign with a record count of 69 medals, which included 15 golds and 24 silvers. Going by the numbers, there was a lot to celebrate in Indonesia. In terms of total medals, this was India’s best performance in the history of the Games. But if this performance is to be analysed with an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the euphoria would have to be severely tempered.
Of the 15 gold medals that India won, seven came in athletics. One section of opinion believes that the tally would have been even higher had Bahrain and Qatar not fielded African imports in the Games. While that is true, it’s apparent that when faced with world-class competition, the Indians were clearly only second best. Except for javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who was head and shoulders above the competition, none of the other gold-medal winning performances will find a mention in the top showings at the world level this year. That is where the real challenge of the sportspersons, national federations and the sports ministry lies.
Instead of going overboard in celebrating these successes, the plan should be to build on these performances with an eye on the Tokyo games two years from now. For that, the right start would be assess each of India’s winning performances against world standards and draw up a blueprint to improve the performances of all the athletes who punched above their weight in Jakarta and Palembang.
For example, boxer Amit Panghal got the better of Rio Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan to clinch the only boxing gold. Manjit Singh (800m) and Jinson Johnson (1500m) beat out a couple of African atheletes. In addition, world junior 400m champion Hima Das, wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, the sailers and the rowers have all shown considerable improvement in the last couple of years. With a well-charted action plan, they could all get even better.
India needs to look to the future. The real success of the 2018 Asian Games should not be judged in terms of the current success but on the basis of how many of these performances could be transformed into potential medal winning prospects in the 2020 Olympics.
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