Sudipti Hajela struggled to find words to describe what had just been achieved. Neither she, nor her teammates Divyakriti Singh, Hriday Chheda, and Anush Agarwalla had been born the last time India won a gold medal at the Asian Games in equestrian, in 1982.
But on Tuesday, the quartet combined to win gold in the team dressage event in Hangzhou, earning the country a spot at the top of the podium in the sport for the first time in 41 years.
“We had only dreamt of it until now,” said Hajela to Scroll, shortly after winning the coveted medal. “Now that it is a reality, it feels surreal.”
Hajela, at 21, is the youngest of the four to take centre stage in Hangzhou. Riding on her companion of two years, Chinski, she accumulated 66.706 points.
It was the lowest of the four Indian riders and was not taken into consideration for the gold medal, but Hajela’s efforts early morning set the ground running for a historic few hours.
Singh followed on her horse Adrenalin Firfod and scored 68.176 points, before Chheda, riding Chemxpro Emerald bettered it with a 69.941. The latter was the individual leader at the halfway mark in the competition.
After a brief interruption to the proceedings, courtesy bad weather, India seemed to be battling hard for a podium. An impeccable show from Hong Kong’s Jacqueline Wing Ying Siu on Jockey Club Huittharien threatened to spoil India’s party, however Agarwalla’s Etro had other plans.
The 23-year-old Agarwalla is no stranger to heartbreaks. He missed out on the 2018 Jakarta Games after the Equestrian Federation of India decided against sending a dressage team then. He also missed out on qualifying for the delayed Tokyo Olympics by a single spot.
However, none of it mattered as Agarwalla and Etro put up a near perfect show and notched up 71.088 points from the six-member jury to ensure that India clinched the gold.
In fact, Agarwalla and Etro’s performance was only second best to Siu and Huittharien’s on Tuesday.
Competing as a team did not come easy to the Indian quartet. They had, in fact, never trained or competed together as a team. But everything fell in place for them at Hangzhou, when they won the first dressage medal for India since the team bronze medal in 1986.
“We came to know we would team up a couple of months ago,” Hajela said. “Since then, the four of us have been extremely supportive of each other, pushing each other to do better. We realised all of us wanted to win right from when we started competing. We were in it together.
“All of us had the same dream since the past few years – to win an Asian Games medal. Even though you are competing solo in the middle, we knew we had each other’s back,” she added.
All four hail from different parts of the country. While Hajela is from Indore, Agarwalla comes from Kolkata. Singh and Chheda are based in Jaipur and Mumbai respectively.
But what bound them together on a Tuesday afternoon, far away from their home, was their mutual love for horses and the sport. And the determination to pull off the unthinkable.
Hajela rode a horse for the first time when she was just six on the insistence of her father. She was hooked. Chheda too was of the same age when he fell in love with sport and has since travelled the length and breadth of the country and world in a bid to get better.
If Singh started off a bit late at 12 just because her school wanted her to play a sport, Agarwalla was only three when a joyride at the Tollygune Club floored him.
They come from different backgrounds, following their own paths in their sport. On Tuesday though, they all had just one goal. And they achieved it, in that unlikely gold medal at the Tonglu Equestrian Centre.