When I was growing up in India, the entire duration of the Olympics would take on a feverish pace. National newspapers would splash their pages with photos and news of Olympic hopefuls from India. I would keep close track of India’s participation in the games, often jotting down names, dates, and events in a small old appointment diary. My dad, an amateur hockey player and enthusiast, would speculate our prospects in the upcoming matches, having once seen India’s excellence in the game.
In the United States, however, I find it difficult to muster the same fervor. For one, it is no fun to watch events hours after they have actually been held. More importantly, my waning enthusiasm is fueled by the fact that India is usually hovering around the bottom rungs of the medal tally. Our only medallist so far is Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who performed brilliantly to clinch the silver in the shooting event. Indian news websites are flooded with congratulations for the armyman who has done his billion-strong country proud. 1:1 billion is a sad ratio for Olympic achievement. Yet, looking at Anju Bobby George (who is yet to perform in the long jump event and considered our best hope for an Olympic gold), Rathore, and others, it is clear there is no dearth of athletic talent in India. Then what is holding us back? Is it the drive or the resources?
Whichever it is, we can turn to Indian-American gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj for some inspiration. Determined to realize her dream of Olympic participation, she “un-retired” herself at age 26 to return to a sport where she would traditionally be considered too old. She trained by herself, was her own spokesperson, and garnered her own funds. And entering the competition as a veritable underdog, she worked hard as part of a team that came away with a silver medal.
It is not to say we are a community of underachievers; we Indian-Americans are part of an affluent minority in the United States. Yet, somehow we don’t think of pursuing sports as a career or as a lifelong passion. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. For now, Bhardwaj has set the stage for us. Maybe a larger contingent of athletes from India will follow suit in Beijing in 2008.
Nitya Ramanan, assistant editor