It was important for PV Sindhu to return from Tokyo with a second Olympics medal.
That’s about as obvious as a statement could get. Of course it is important for an athlete to win a medal when they go to compete at a stage like Olympics. Why wouldn’t it be?
But tweak it a little and it gains more significance.
It was important that PV Sindhu won a second Olympics medal in Tokyo.
Now, that takes on a couple of different meanings.
By now, if there’s anything printed about Sindhu in the news, the chances of finding the words “big”, “match” / “tournament” / “event”, “player” would almost be a given. At the grandest of stages, she is simply expected to deliver. More importantly, she expects to deliver.
The bronze was important just so that Sindhu lives up to those standards she has set for herself.
The Rio 2016 silver medal was historic not just because she was the first ever Indian woman to stand second on the podium at the Olympic Games. By the time it arrived just on the back of Sakshi Malik’s unexpected bronze, the nation was craving for something to celebrate. Similarly, the Tokyo 2020 bronze was critical to pick up the mood of a nation that had just started to dip after a rollercoaster start.
On Saturday, those hopes were still on a gold medal for her... because we expect that from her. As the reigning world champion has given us all the reasons to do so. It did not happen in Tokyo but with Sindhu, it is now just natural. What’s her form on the circuit? How is her game shaping up? Has her preparation been ideal? These are important factors and part of the process for her, but when it comes to what Indian fans hope from her, these go out of the window.
Sindhu at Worlds / Olympics / Asiad
“I think that is huge. It’s not just having two Olympic medals. It’s about showing that consistency over the last six-eight years,” Indian shuttler HS Prannoy told Scroll.in on the night Sindhu became the first Indian woman to win two Olympic medals.
“We know that she is a big event player but every time to go out there and deliver is not easy. She knows the expectations on her… it is *not* easy. World Championships. Asian Games. Olympics. We expect from her. To continuously perform like that at the big stages is just incredible…you just need a different temperament to do that,” he added.
Barely any of us can understand what goes into being an Olympian. The mental stress of it all. Just to get to that stage is massive for so many athletes, but only ever so often comes an individual who transcends that sentiment and makes us hope. For that hope to persevere, it was important Sindhu did what she did. Again.
And while many of us are not going to drop what we are doing and make it our mission to become an Olympian, there is a small group or maybe even one individual in some part of the nation, who might think so. For her peers and budding shuttlers, it is more than just a reason to celebrate. Her success is important because it provides the reason for someone somewhere to wake up at 5 am and travel to an academy and train harder than they did before.
“That is very promising because for all of us, every shuttler in our group, whenever someone goes out there and wins something, it gives us that extra bit of motivation. The extra confidence to work towards achieving something. The belief that if Sindhu can do it, then you also can do it...that kind of belief is important. These kind of performances are very, very important for us,” Prannoy said.
The medal is also important because, in victory or defeat, Sindhu shows us human values. Her roars are loud, her fist pumps fierce, but when a match is over, she reverts to her self. Be it going over to the other side of the next and picking up a sobbing Carolina Marin and embracing in her arms in Rio... or offering a shoulder to Tai Tzu Ying in Tokyo. After Tai’s career-long dream of winning a major title came to an end in the final and she held the silver medal in her hands, Sindhu was there for support. She did it because she has been there before. Many times. She knows how it feels to give it your all and still find that one person just did it a bit better. And here she did it to the person who ended her own hopes of a gold. Imagine that.
Sindhu’s triumph was also important because an athlete’s success is rarely 100% their own. No one can take away the effort they put in but without the right support system, the hardest working most talented sportsperson can fall short. So, for the man sitting behind her during her matches and living all the big points as if he was playing them, it was important. Important because a man from Korea who had to learn English (and throwaway phrases like ‘aaram se’) just to be able to communicate with his ward.
For this man, Park Tae Sang, this would the first taste of success at the Olympics, having participated himself in Athens 2004. Five editions later, he got to be the coach of a medallist. “I am really happy because in my coaching career for the first time my player gets the medal,” he beamed when he spoke to the media. It meant the world to him.
But mostly, Sindhu’s journey is important, almost essential, because of what it means to her position as a role model in Indian sport.
After the Indian women’s hockey team won against the mighty Australians, former men’s team captain Viren Rasquinha made an important observation: “I cannot stress the importance of these images of the Indian women’s hockey team getting beamed across the world... across towns cities and villages of India and what it will do for kids looking to pick up a sport,” he said.
The same is true for Sindhu. It has been for a while.
“Days like these and triumphs such as yours that push us all to keep dreaming of the impossible,” Abhinav Bindra, the country’s first (and so far, only) individual gold medallist at the Olympics, wrote in his message to Sindhu. “The next generation of athletes are lucky to have got a role model in you who is an embodiment of the virtues of practice and perseverance, the two qualities one needs in abundance in order to thrive in elite competitions.”
Ask any coach working at the grassroots level and they will tell you, along with resources and right education, a role model is crucial. No sporting culture can evolve without a figure of inspiration that first makes you want to kick a football, pick up a cricket bat or hold that racquet in your hand for five minutes more than the time you originally intended to be out there playing. Because that’s what matters in the end. The moment of realisation that you’d rather be playing a sport and be the best at it, rather than anything else. That is the first step in invariably every journey to success and that wouldn’t happen without having someone to look up to.
Someone like Sindhu.
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