Over a phone conversation, Gagan Narang used the word “unforgiving” a few times. The call took place during the latter stages of the shooting events at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, from where the Indian contingent eventually returned with its biggest haul in the sport – seven gold medals, nine silver and six bronze.
Narang, a bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympic Games, said that Indian shooters could not afford to drop the pace. He talked about how there was great depth within the squad and how one small error could result in a compatriot taking their place. And how one small error could allow a foreign competitor to claim a spot on the podium.
There were not many errors during the fortnight in Hangzhou. The Indian contingent clinched the country’s best tally at the Asian Games ever of 107 medals – 28 gold, 38 silver and 41 bronze.
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These numbers and achievements are worthy of praise and rewards. But in Narang’s use of the word “unforgiving” there was a warning.
Once the dust settles and all the felicitation ceremonies from ministers and well-wishers are complete, a new target will need to be worked towards. The biggest target there is in sports. The Olympics.
Paris 2024 will take place barely a year after the heroics of Hangzhou. Yet expectations need to be measured. There is no harm in being optimistic, but not at the expense of realism.
The Asian Games was a success for India, but the Olympics is a whole different beast.
In Paris, the best athletes in the world, across sports, will be competing. That means that in events such as shooting, where the main competition was from China and South Korea in Hangzhou, there will be big names from Russia, the United States, Germany, and other powerhouse sporting nations.
Also consider that the Asian Games had a total of 102 medals on offer in shooting alone. At the Olympics that number will shrink to 45. And the pressure will go up just as sharply.
The compound archers won gold in every event available to them in Hangzhou. But the discipline does not exist on the Olympic roster yet.
There is no doubt that Indian sports is on the rise. More often than not, at various World Championships, Indians have punched above their weight to cover ground never before conquered. At the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian contingent won the country’s biggest medal haul at a single edition – seven medals. It included Neeraj Chopra’s gold.
But that was the only medal won in athletics by an athlete from independent India. And you will have to go back to 2012 to find the last Indian shooter to stand on an Olympic podium.
This is not to demean the achievements at the Asian Games. In sports like table tennis and badminton, the best players come from this continent. Yet we had Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee beat the world No 2 women’s doubles team to claim a bronze in table tennis. And Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty became the first Indians to win a badminton gold at the Asian Games, and become the world No 1 team in the process.
Good results at the Asian Games do not automatically translate to what may happen at the Olympics. But it must be used as a springboard towards reaching greater heights. Towards improvement.
Towards a Parisian podium.