India’s performance at the justconcluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham will go down as one of its best. With a tally of 61 medals (22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze), India finished at the fourth slot, but the all-around performance in most disciplines reveals that Indians were able to break the barriers.
The country’s performance needs to be looked at in the light of the fact that despite the exclusion of four major disciplines (shooting, archery, tennis and Greco Roman wrestling), where India had always dominated, it managed to strike such an impressive medal haul.
“For me it’s one of our best-ever performance, maybe better than the 2010 tally of 101 medals in Delhi,” said Olympian and world bronze medalist Anju Bobby George. “If one were to closely examine the medal tally, I think it’s probably the best allround show by our sportspersons in all the editions so far,” she said.
An interesting feature was that both juniors and veterans contributed to the gold rush. Lakshya Sen, who won the gold medal in the badminton men’s singles, is not yet 21, while TT player Achanta Sharath Kamal is well past 40. In fact, Kamal won 4 medals, including 3 gold (men’s singles, men’s team championships and mixed doubles). He now has a record haul of 13 medals in four editions of CWG and that makes him an integral part of the sporting folklore.
It was in athletics where the Indians exceeded all expectations. For the first time, India won gold and silver in triple jump where Eldhose Paul and Abdullah Aboobakur broke the glass ceiling. “Not in the wildest of my dreams did I think that we could have the gold and silver medal winner in a world-class field,” said Dinesh Arya, a national level athlete.
India won a total of eight medals in athletics – first time that the country had such a rich haul in track-and-field. Apart from Eldhose and Abdullah, Murali Shivshankar (silver- long jump), Tejwaswin Shankar (bronzehigh jump) Abhijeet Sable (silver3000m steeplechase), Sandeep Kumar (bronze men’s 10km walk), Priyanka Goswami (silver 10km walk) and Annu Rani (bronze javelin) were the other winners. How is it that our athletics have managed to do so well this time around?
Amit Khanna, a former nationallevel athlete who has many records to his name, felt that there was much more support from the Government (both Central and states) and also private entities. “In India now, athletes who win a medal at the national level, get much more financial and foreign exposure from both the Centre and states than it was earlier. During the times I competed (late 90s), there was hardly any international exposure. International exposure is a critical factor for any athlete to improve his performance,” he said. The Government, he added, has implemented schemes like TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme), which has proved very beneficial.
Launched in 2017, TOPS gives lot of financial assistance and travel facilities to select athletes who have the potential for winning medals, said Khanna. Also, the prize money an athlete makes after winning a medal at the Asian Games or at the CWG-level has increased almost 20- fold. Elaborating further, he said, the Delhi Government gives Rs 1 crore to a medal-winning athlete whereas Haryana gives Rs 3 cr and Telengana Rs 4 cr. Also athletes rake in crores from endorsements. As a result, he said, “more and more parents have realised that if their children perform well, they can easily make a living out of sports.”
Arjun Singh, who served as an office-bearer of the Athletic Federation of India, said the strong presence of private players who manage and sponsor some of the top athletes and para athletes, has resulted in the good showing. Go Sports Foundation and Olympic Gold Quest are doing a wonderful job in this regard, he said.
Badminton is another sport which the Indians dominated and won three gold medals on the final day to pip New Zealand to the fourth place. PV Sindhu showed she is one of the greatest shuttlers as she won her maiden gold. This was in addition to the bronze and silver she had won in the previous two editions of the CWG. With her latest triumph, she has become the only shuttler to have won a medal in all the multidisciplinary games (Asian Games, CWG and Olympics).
“Sindhu’s insatiable quest for success is something which will be a trendsetter for the Indian athletes in the years to come. I think she has it in her to win a medal at the Paris Olympics …such is her commitment and single-minded focus,” said Pullela Gopichand, the chief national coach.
Lakshya Sen’s triumph in the men’s singles heralds the dawn of a new world- beater in badminton. The Uttarakhand youngster, a bronze medal winner in last year’s World Championship, showed remarkable composure and grit to beat the dangerous Ng Wong of Malaysia in the final. Lakshya, who practices under the tutelage of former badminton great Prakash Padukone, has shown that he is the future of the men’s singles.
The Indian wrestlers, too, came up with a sterling show at Birmingham. Among the notable winners was Sakshi Malik, who won gold in the 62- kg category. It was a major triumph for her after the bronze she won at Rio Olympics. In all, India won 12 medals in athletics, which included 6 gold and five bronze.
Also, there were many heroic stories of struggle behind the success of some medal winners. Judoka Tullika Mann, who won the silver medal, lost her father Satbir when she was just two-year-old. She was raised by her single mother Amrita, who is working in Delhi Police. Likewise, gold medalist Eldhose Paul was brought up by his 89-year-old grandmother after the death of his mother when he was only four-yearold. His father Paul was a labourer and the family struggled to make both ends meet.
Weightlifter gold medalist Jeremiah Lalilunga hails from such a poor background that in his childhood days he would feign sleep to avoid paying the bus fare and sit and sleep next to the toilet of a train, whenever he had to go on outstation trip. Little surprise that the first thing the new medal-winner did after arriving in his hometown Aizwal was to present a brand new Baleno to his parents.