Tag Archives: #olympics

Divya Kakran (21) could be one of the stars of wrestling in the coming decade. (Image from Olympics.com)

India’s Potential and Heritage in Wrestling

Wrestling competitions at the Olympics have begun, and India is yet to medal. India has a seven-member contingent, which includes two women. Many may recall that Sakshi Malik won a bronze medal in 2016 in Reno.  (Incidentally, she did not make the team for Tokyo). Also, in 2012 in London, India won two medals (a rarity!) in the men’s division: a silver and a bronze. So, there is good reason for keeping our eyes on wrestling from India’s Olympic perspective.

Many of you may recall my diatribes in my earlier article where I was crying hoarsely to ‘prove’ that Indians’ lack of success in sports (other than cricket) is primarily due to lack of talent and not due to shortage of training and associated facilities and adequate financial rewards. Well, perhaps I am now backtracking somewhat from my stubborn stand earlier, due to some new information and developments. I am talking about wrestling.

India had fourth-place finishes on seven occasions! This woke me up – how come I was not aware of it? 

I have compiled the table below which includes all the medalists, and fourth, fifth and sixth place finishers in Olympic wrestling, both men and women: 

1920

Randhir Shinde: 4th in Men’s Featherweight, Freestyle

1948

Khashaba Jhadav: 6th in Men’s Flyweight, Freestyle

1952

Khashaba Jhadav: BRONZE MEDAL in Men’s Bantamweight, Freestyle

Keshav Mangave: 4th in Men’s Featherweight, Freestyle

1968

Sudesh Kumar: 6th in Men’s Flyweight, Freestyle

Udey Chand: 6th in Men’s Lightweight, Freestyle

1972

Adkar Maruti: 4th in Men’s Flyweight, Freestyle

Sudesh Kumar: 4th in Men’s Flyweight, Freestyle

Prem Nath: 4th in Men’s Bantamweight, Freestyle

1980

Jagmander Singh: 4th in Men’s Lightweight, Freestyle

Mahabir Singh: 5th in Men’s Light-Flyweight, Freestyle

1984

Rajinder Singh: 4th Men’s Welterweight, Freestyle

Mahabir Singh: 6th Men’s Flyweight, Freestyle

Rohtas Singh: 5th Men’s Bantamweight, Freestyle

1992

Subhash Verma: 6th Men’s Heavyweight, Freestyle

2008

Sushil Kumar: BRONZE MEDAL in Men’s Welterweight, Freestyle

2012

Sushil Kumar: SILVER MEDAL in Men’s Welterweight, Freestyle

Yogeshwar Dutt: BRONZE MEDAL in Men’s Lightweight, Freestyle

2016

Sakshi Malik: BRONZE MEDAL in Women’s freestyle 58 kg

The table above is surely impressive. No other Olympic sport can boast of a similar level of performance on the part of Indians (except perhaps Field Hockey, if the recent successes mature into something more substantive). 

Add to that the 59 medals in the Asian Games (11 gold, 14 silver, and 34 bronze) from 1954 to 2018 including 5 medals (2 gold, and 1 bronze) in 2018. In addition, India won 11 medals in the 2018 Commonwealth Games (5 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze). The better performances in the Commonwealth Games compared to the Asian Games are clearly reflective of the presence of wrestling powerhouses Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Japan in the Asiads.  All this has me fully convinced that there is talent in India in wrestling, a sport that has been included in all the modern Olympics and even in the Ancient Olympics in Greece.  

A Brief History of Wrestling in India

Wrestling (pehlwani or kushti) has after all been a part of our heritage from the days of yore. The epic Mahabharata is replete with the exploits of Bhima, the second Pandava who demolishes numerous kings and demons with his superhuman strength. I am tempted to put Bhima as the world’s first accomplished wrestler. 

The malla-yuddha in Ramayana speaks of the presence of wrestling in India in antiquity. There are also allusions to Krishna and his brother Balaram being legendary wrestlers.  In fact, there is a Purana dated in the thirteenth century called Malla Purana.  It describes the various wrestling techniques.  Interestingly, the techniques are named after the legendary wrestlers Jarasandha, Hanuman and Jambuvan, and of course Bhima.

Bhima kills Jarasandha in a wrestling match, a folio from the Bhagavata Purana. c. 1520–1540 (Image from the Met Museum)
Bhima kills Jarasandha in a wrestling match, a folio from the Bhagavata Purana. c. 1520–1540 (Image from the Met Museum)

However, the prevailing form of wrestling in India probably evolved during the Mughal rule by combining the native malla-yuddha (which incorporates grappling, joint-breaking, punching, biting, choking and pressure point striking) with influences from Persian sources. A particular feature that distinguished pehlwani from the earlier malla-yuddha was that strikes and kicks during a match were not allowed. Wrestling (of the pehlwani variety) became a very popular sport in the nineteenth and early parts of the twentieth century, particularly in Punjab and North India.  Many zamindars and maharajas like the Maharaja of Patiala, avidly patronized the sport and had a stable of fighters.

Legendary fighters like Karim Bux, Gulam, Rahim Baksh Sultaniwala, and The Great Gama caught the imagination of the sporting public of the day. The Great Gama (1878-1960), also known as the Gama Pehalwan, whose real name was Ghulam Mohammed Butt, was undoubtedly the greatest Indian wrestler of his time, perhaps of all time. In 2015, The Great Gama was inducted posthumously in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (PWHF) as a wrestler of the Pioneer Era.   

Wrestling in various forms emerged as a spectator sport in various parts of India. One popular form to emerge, particularly in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP was the Dangal.  It was showcased by a popular blockbuster by the same name. The film presented the story of a Phogat family, where a man from Haryana trained his six daughters and nieces, all of whom became successful wrestlers with distinguished successes in the Asian Games and the Olympics. In our generation had all grown up with the name of Dara Singh and his match with a foreign wrestler named King Kong. 

And finally talking about our tradition of wrestling, I cannot refrain from remembering the big fat men, often with huge mustaches, gleefully engaged trying to pin down each other in akhadas (wrestling mats) in the banks of the Ganges. It is somewhat of a mystery to me as to why these dedicated and talented practitioners of the sport did not try their hand at the Olympics. Maybe it was because typical pehlwani, as practiced in India, does not translate easily to the more stringent rules of Olympic wrestling.


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He loves to write and can be reached by e-mail at psircar@yahoo.com.


 

Olympian - Manu Bhaker

IC Talks With Manu Bhaker: India’s Pistol Power at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

When a dynamic teenage pistol shooter is targeting not one but multiple Golds at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics 2020, the entire nation has to be rooting for her. 19-year-old Manu Bhaker will be seen fighting it out in the 10 meter, 25 meter air-pistol, and mixed-team shooting events at the Japanese capital after many Covid-hit hurdles. Manu took out time from her grueling practice and meditation routine in Croatia, just before heading to Tokyo, to give an exclusive interview to India Currents

Hailing from the small village of Goria (population of 4,590 as per the last Census, 2011) in Jhajjar district of Haryana, Manu first picked the pistol at her school’s shooting range only 5 years ago. Before that, by the age of 14, Manu had already played, excelled, and voluntarily dropped out of about a dozen other games. 

“I played almost all games which were available at Universal School Goria. And mostly left (these) games after winning medals at national and state level,” Manu shares. 

Which games are these?

“Boxing, skating, marathon, kabaddi, lawn tennis, table tennis, swimming, Tang-Ta (a sword and spear martial art from Manipur), karate, and shooting. In Tang-Ta and karate I have national medals,” elaborates Manu.   

“Shooting was also a game at Universal School and many students played it” which is how Manu had her first tryst with the pistol. Excelling at other games “did not help me in any way in preparing me for shooting.” So why did she stick to this game for so long, compared to all others? 

Manu Bhaker preparing to practice in her event - shooting.
Manu Bhaker preparing to practice in her event – shooting.

“Shooting is a transparent game with a transparent system. It’s quick and gives instant results too. Alongside these factors, early results in my career of this sport, with very little work compared to other contact sports, made me opt for this sport. I enjoy sports, but I love shooting the most,” says Manu firmly. 

“Olympic is a dream for every athlete and it is mine as well. It feels great to represent India,” Manu says about her first-ever appearance at Olympics. 

However, she’s already felt the pulse and pressure of it when she created history by becoming the first female Indian athlete ever to win Gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. Breaking records several times, her talent has been shining bright across championships like Commonwealth Games (2018), ISSF Junior World Cups (2018), Asian Airgun Championships (2019 and ISSF World Cups (2018, 2019, and 2021), among many others.   

Bhaker has become the sportsperson she has while growing up in Goria and is deeply attached to her home and school. “My best childhood memories are of the School stage show where I performed the role of Goddess Saraswati. I was 4 years old and everyone praised me. Girls from standard 11/12 were bowing towards me and I couldn’t control my laughter,” shares Manu fondly. 

The presence of a healthy sports culture and the ready availability of coaches at the school played a vital role in Manu’s marvelous career path. “Goria is a beautiful village and our school on its outskirts is even more beautiful,” explains Manu. 

At the recently released NITI Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goal India Index 2020-21, prepared in association with United Nations India, Haryana scored poorly on gender equality, among other things. Also, it is well known, that according to Census 2011, Haryana has the worst gender disparity in the country at 834 girls per 1000 boys. 

Given the situation, many would think life in Goria would have been challenging, but Manu quashes any such thoughts. “My life has always been a cakewalk due to a supportive family. My parents are absolutely amazing and always removed possible obstacles. Even the people in my village are great and support girls and boys equally,” shares Manu. “I have never heard or saw anything about inequality in my village and don’t know why some people always try to make this a topic of discussion. Actually, reservations, unemployment, and population control should be topics of concern,” she adds further.

Manu Bhaker with her family.
Manu Bhaker with her family.

Manu bagged several Gold medals at the 2017 National Games and a silver at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships almost within a year of picking up shooting. She’s been playing in both 10m and 25m events for five years, but coincidentally, has won all of her 14 international Golds in the 10m category only, playing either individually or in a team event. Yet, surprisingly, it is the 25m game that is closer to her heart. 

“I love the 25m sports pistol more. I enjoy the sound and passion. Also, it’s quick,” says Manu without any qualms. While focus and mental balance are imperative in this sport, a match at an international level has to evoke a myriad of emotions for any athlete. Does Manu feel nervous, or is she strategizing on the field with the opponent beside her? 

“I don’t plan. I don’t watch anyone’s game. I simply listen to music and keep myself calm. I listen to all kinds of music, including Haryanvi and Punjabi,” she shares. Her day starts early and she practices the super-powerful Suryanamaskar for an hour daily, without a miss. “I follow a standard routine starting yoga. And I haven’t changed this routine since I started shooting; nothing special for big events as every tournament is special for me.” 

Studies haven’t taken a backseat for her either. “It is very very important for me to excel at and complete my studies too. I do study for 1-2 hours daily even at this time,” says Manu. 

India’s best promise at Tokyo, this youngster is satisfied with the international standard ranges and infrastructure of her land. “I do continue to practice at my school range or in my house range for the 10m, but I have to travel 145km to Delhi for 25m pistol sports. Surprisingly, there is not a single 25m sports pistol range in our state, Haryana,” says Manu. 

Being good with a sword, spear, the pistol, and hand-to-hand combat arts of boxing and karate too, does she feel she has the spirit of a warrior? Does she see herself as a part of the army like her grandfather? 

“I am in all these things. But I will opt for the civil services,” says Manu with a sense of finality. 


Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India, who loves taking care of her children and plants. 


 

Indian athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics (image from Sportskeeda.com)

India Has So Few Medals at the Olympics

This article is a two-part series on India’s participation in the previous Olympic games and the upcoming Olympic games. Find part 1 here!

The previous article illustrates that of the many individuals who have represented India in the Olympics, relatively few were competitive. This is by all accounts, rather disappointing, considering India’s huge population and its exposure and intimate association with the Olympics for over 100 years.

The above frustration was relayed by so many of us as we watched the quadrennial spectacular in Rio de Janeiro with great interest. It was given added fillip when the inimitable Dipa Karmakar (the Produnova vault was on everyone’s lips!) just missed medaling as we all watched.  The frustration was assuaged only slightly near the end of the Games with the bronze for Sakshi Malik in women’s wrestling and later by the silver by PV Sindhu in badminton. But the sentiment lives on. It may further be noted that Pakistan has won only 10 medals so far (since 1952), eight of them Field Hockey. And Bangladesh has so far (since 1972) won none – the most populous country in the world without an Olympic medal.  

One wonders about this pervasive shortcoming for the entire subcontinent. The oft-cited reason is the lack of sufficient facilities, training, and economic incentives. For the most part, I do not fully agree. I am thoroughly convinced that to be an Olympic medalist you most of all need to have superior “inherent natural ability” (talent). I submit that without superior talent, any amount of training, facilities, or opportunities will not an Olympic champion make.  And in India (and Pakistan and Bangladesh) there apparently is a severe dearth (not total absence) of talent needed to succeed in the sports currently competed in the Olympics. And that unfortunately does not include cricket. 

Of the children of Indian origin who grew up in the US, genuine success in sports is few and far between – in sharp contrast to their glaring successes in Spelling Bees, Math Olympiads, and Chess. This is in spite of them being afforded the same opportunities as all others. The common reason put forward is that they predominantly have a white-collar background. 

However, the situation is not much different in the UK, which has a much larger proportion of a working-class population from the Indian subcontinent. But the only one coming close is Bengali-Kolkata mix, Neil Taylor, who represented Wales in Euro 2016. While on soccer, I contend that if we had talent in the game, we would have had a presence in the English and European leagues like so many from Africa. We have been well exposed to the game for well over a hundred years. However, our best, Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, and Masood Fakhri of Pakistan earlier could not establish themselves in the English league. Mention may be made of war-torn Iraq, whose soccer team not only qualified for the Olympics but drew all its three group matches, including with Brazil, the ultimate gold medalist.

The source of talent in sports is not easily defined in specific terms. Different skill sets are required for different sports, and thus, different physical attributes. For some sports it is easy to identify – you have to be tall for basketball and well-built for American football. But for other sports, it is not readily apparent. There is more to physical attributes than height and weight. They involve myriad characteristics like upper body strength, speed of hand and foot, reaction times, lung capacity, wrist strength, hand-eye coordination, length of arms, and size of palms. Also, the ability to withstand pain and fatigue may be part of talent, though that might not strictly qualify as a physical attribute. Take a look at  Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimming legend. He has been described as having a freakish physique with a large wingspan, high lung capacity, and flipper feet.

The racial/ethnic element in Olympics sports success clearly jumps out at me in no uncertain terms

2016 US Olympics Track and Field Trials (Image from Wikimedia and under the Creative Commons License 2.0)
2016 US Olympics Track and Field Trials (Image from Wikimedia and under the Creative Commons License 2.0)

The superior success of black athletes from the US, the Caribbeans, Canada, or England in the speed events of track and field — the sprints, horizontal jumps, the hurdles — does not escape anyone.  They are known to have a common West African ancestry for the most part.  Significantly, countries in West Africa like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, who have similar ancestry, have also produced some world-class sprinters and long jumpers. By contrast, the success of the same people in the longer distances, the throws, the high jump, and pole vault are a mere shadow of their success in the speed events.

Ethiopians and Kenyans from East Africa surely belong to a different stock with their primacy in the middle and longer distances (they cannot run distances shorter than 800 meters it seems!). Incidentally, other small countries in the region like Somalia, Djibouti, and Burundi have also been competitive in these distances in the Olympics.

It also appears that the Mongolian races stand out for their extremely fast hand-foot combinations. They are so overwhelming in low-weight boxing, badminton, gymnastics, and table tennis. I have to note that many successful boxers are from India (Mary Kom is the best of them!) and from the impoverished northeast, where the Mongolian racial characteristics are so prevalent. It is hard to think there are better training and facilities there than in the rest of India. There seems to be some special talent in weightlifting and wrestling in Turkey, Iran, and contiguous countries like Azerbijan and Kazakastan. Finally, there is the example of the little island of Fiji with a population of less than a million winning a gold medal in rugby in 2016. Thirty-eight percent of the Fijian population is of Indian origin — there was not a single Indian on the Fijian team –all were what they call native Fijians (of Melanesian and some Polynesian origin).  

Many of my above observations may not be tenable as increased globalization takes hold and new technological advances appear on the scene. Changed political and economic situations may also dictate newer realities. Predictably, there will be increased exposure to different sports for different segments of the population along with better training. I am reminded that before the 1960 Olympics in Rome and the unforgettable victory of Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia in the marathon, and the exploits of Kipchoge Keino of Kenya and others from 1964. Kenya and Ethiopia, which so overwhelmingly dominate the middle and long distances of track and field, were absent from our sports consciousness.  

Similar must have been in baseball before Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major league in 1947, which opened up the huge talent pool for the racial diversity in baseball. Similarly, there was the arrival of China into the Olympic fold in 1984 and before that in the Asian Games in 1974.  It was a quantum shift in the Olympic scene. Similarly, it is possible that new technology and changing situations, such as the advent of artificial surfaces unsuited to our style of play, exodus of Anglo-Indians from India, and more nations taking up the game seriously, all may have resulted in the loss of the primacy in Field Hockey for India and Pakistan.   

I seriously wonder if such changed situations discussed above will usher in much hope for increased Olympic success for India. After all, India has had reasonably long exposures to the outside world in all the major Olympic sports like soccer, field hockey, track and field, swimming, volleyball, wrestling, weightlifting, and boxing, and often had decent opportunities to show their mettle. We have, sometimes, competed creditably in the Commonwealth and Asian Games, but repeatedly came up short in the larger arena of the Olympics. This, I would attribute largely to a lack of sufficient talent.

To many, insufficient or inadequate training, facilities, and economic incentives are the prime causes for India’s ‘abject failure’ in the Olympics over the years.  The issue needs to be examined more closely, beyond this blanket statement.  In 2014, India won 57 medals (11 gold) in the Asian Games and 55 medals (14 gold) in the Commonwealth Games. In 2018, India won 70 medals (16 gold) in the Asian Games and 66 medals (20gold) in the Commonwealth Games. The medals tell me there is a reasonable amount of training and infrastructure out there and that our talent level is good enough to succeed in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, but insufficient for Olympic medals.

Specifics

Dipa Karmakar (Image from the Olympics website)
Dipa Karmakar (Image from the Olympics website)

The case of Dipa Karmakar is instructive. For one hailing from Tripura, a remote corner of the country, she could still avail herself of adequate gymnastic facilities and a capable coach in Mr. Nandi. Dipa went thru the ranks from junior to senior (no lone wolf!), reflecting a reasonable infrastructure behind her, however inept. Mr. Nandi has hailed the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for its help.

Sakshi Malik’s experience in her Haryana village with all its backwardness and prejudices did not stop her from acquiring a competent coach from Karnataka, trained by SAI. Along with the SAI, which has its presence in every state, there are sports institutes in many parts of the country, such as in Patiala and Gwalior, turning out players and coaches.  There is the admirable facility for badminton run by the former All England Champion, PV Gopichand, which has turned out Olympic medalists Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu among others. 

So, we do have our coaches and our facilities, however insufficient and inept.  We have also to appreciate that for a vast and poor country like India, our utilization of our limited resources for sports have to be balanced against bigger priorities such as infrastructure development, industrialization, alleviation of poverty, justice and crime prevention, defense of the country, education, good governance. All these surely cannot be compromised for mere Olympic medals.

I am curious how our training and financial incentives compare with other similar developing countries on a per-capita basis, something not easy to put one’s hands-on. Instead, I chose three countries at random: Brazil, Thailand, and Nigeria in three continents to find out their Olympic medal hauls.

Brazil had won 24 gold, 31 silver, and 57 bronze.

Thailand had won 9 gold, 7 silver, and 13 bronze.

Nigeria had won 3 gold, 8 silver, and 12 bronze (including a gold and a silver in soccer and a gold in Men’s 4×400 meters relay). 

These countries are by no means economic powerhouses.  It is therefore very unlikely that their sportsmen would have better facilities and economic prospects than in India to spur the pursuit of their sporting careers. 

The Olympics have just begun in Tokyo. I, an Olympic fanatic am already in front of the TV watching the grand extravaganza, albeit in front of empty stadiums. Success or failure of Indians will only flash fleetingly in my mind. I will root for whoever seems hopeful and can bring us some medals. They have been so few and far between!

In the meantime, I keep on hoping like many of us for cricket to be included in the Olympics in the future. We would definitely be contenders for the gold.

Go back and read part 1!


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write and can be reached by e-mail at psircar@yahoo.com.


 

India at the 1948 Olympic Games in London (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

India at the Olympics

This article is a two-part series on India’s participation in the previous Olympic games and the upcoming Olympic games. 

Like millions of others, I am eagerly looking forward to the resumption of the 2020 Olympics after an unfortunate postponement from last year due to Covid-19. It starts on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan a rare break from the quadrennial routine. Only thrice earlier (1916, 1940, and 1944) were the Games canceled and it was due to the two World Wars. 

The Modern Olympics, a brainchild of the Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was inaugurated in Athens, Greece in 1896. The Baron was surely fired up by grandiose visions of reviving the Ancient Olympics in Greece which had come to an end in 393 AD. The venue of Athens was appropriately chosen to remind all about this ancient heritage.

The Olympic Games, which has grown into a mammoth sports spectacle, had rather humble beginnings. In the First Olympics, there were only nine sports: Athletics, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Wrestling, and Weightlifting. Fourteen countries were listed (some with one competitor.). Greece had a large contingent (169), followed by France, United States, Great Britain, and Germany. In 2016, there were 11,000 competitors from 107 countries. Presently, the total number of sports stands at 28.

India, as a nation, first made its appearance in the Olympics in Antwerp in 1920*.  They sent 6 competitors: four athletes and two wrestlers. Since then, India has sent teams to all the following Olympics. It has been a particular attraction to see the Indian team march during the opening ceremonies along with all the other countries. The men in turbans and the women in sarees are a joy to watch. In 2021, India will send its largest-ever contingent of 69 men and 55 women who will compete in 18 sports, including Men’s and Women’s Field hockey and Rifle Shooting. 

*In the 1900 Paris Olympics, Norman Pritchard, a British resident of Calcutta, won two silver medals in Track and Field (200 meters and 200-meter hurdles).

India has won a total of 28 medals over the years. Its crowning glory has undoubtedly been in Field Hockey, where it won 11 medals (including 8 golds).  Its last medal was a gold in 1980.

List of Olympic Medals Won By India

Medalists at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Left to right: Sushil Kumar (silver), Akzhurek Tanatarov (bronze), Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (gold) and Liván López (bronze). (Image by Akira Kouchiyama on Flickr and under Creative Commons License 2.0)
Medalists at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Left to right: Sushil Kumar (silver), Akzhurek Tanatarov (bronze), Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (gold) and Liván López (bronze). (Image by Akira Kouchiyama on Flickr and under Creative Commons License 2.0)

Field Hockey: 11 (Gold: 1928 – 1936, 1948 – 1956, 1964, 1980;  Silver: 1960; Bronze:  1968, 1972) 

Freestyle Wrestling: 5 ( Silver: Sushil Kumar, 66 kg, 2012;  Bronze: K. D. Jadhav, Bantamweight, 1952; Sushil Kumar, 66 kg, 2008; Yogeshwar Dutt, 60 kg 2012; Sakshi Malik, Women’s 58 kg, 2016)

Shooting: 4 (Gold: Abhinav Bindra, Men’s 10m Rifle, 2008; Silver: Rajyavardhan Rathore, Men’s Double Trap, 2004; Vijay Kumar, Men’s 25 Rapid Fire Pistol, 2012; Bronze: Gagan Narang, Men’s 10m Air Rifle, 2012)

Track and Field: 2 (Silver: Norman Pritchard, 200 meters and 200 meters hurdles, 1900)

Badminton: 2 (Silver: PV Sindhu, Women’s Singles, 2016; Bronze: Saina Nehwal, Women’s Singles 2012)

Tennis: 1 (Bronze: Leander Paes, Men’s Singles, 1996)

Weightlifting: 1 (Bronze: Karnam Malleswari, Women’s 69kg, 2000)

Boxing: 2 (Bronze: Vijender Singh, Middleweight, 2008; Mary Kom, Women’s Flyweight, 2012)

I have also presented below a list of competitive competitors, in my opinion, but did not win a medal. They are often separated by inches, milliseconds, or the third places of decimals and on a given day, they may have made it to the podium.  

List of Individual Athletes Who Were Competitive But Did Not Win a Medal

Track and Field: Milkha Singh (4th in 400m, 1960); Gurbhachan Singh Randhawa (5th in 110m Hurdles, 1964);  Sriram Singh (7th  in 800m, 1976); Shivnath Singh (11th in Marathon, 1976); PT Usha (4th by one-hundredth of a second in Women’s 400m Hurdles in 1984);  Anju George (5th in Long Jump, 2000); Krishna Punia (6th in Women’s Discus Throw, 2012); Vikas Gowda (8th in Men’s Discus Throw,  2012); Lalitha Babbar (10th in Women’s 3000m Steeplechase, 2016).  

Women’ Gymnastics: Dipa Karmakar (4th in Vault, 2016)

Tennis: Sania Mirza (4th in Mixed Doubles, 2016); 

Shooting: Abhinav Bindra (4th in Men’s 10m Rifle, 2016)

Notable near misses — much-heralded fourth-place finish by the recently deceased Milkha Singh in 400m in Rome, PT Usha missing the bronze by one-hundredth of a second in the 1984 Olympics in Women’s 400m Hurdles, and Dipa Karmakar’s nearest of misses after landing the legendary Produnova Vaul — will forever be etched the memories of all Indian Olympic aficionados.

I do not recall anyone in men’s or women’s swimming making the grade, but I am aware of several wrestlers who came close to medals in the 1960s or 1970s. 

As for team sports, apart from our legendary run in Field Hockey, the only competitive team may have been the 1956 football team which finished fourth; this was back when Olympic football was still strictly limited to amateurs. 

Read the second part of this story! Other Indian Olympic candidates to look out for: Deepika Kumari and Bajrang Punia.


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write and can be reached by e-mail at psircar@yahoo.com.


 

Bajrang Punia wins the gold in Rome.

Bajrang Punia: Fighting for Gold at the Tokyo Olympics

He wrestles with all his might and communicates in immaculate Hindi. 26-year-old freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia is among the foremost Indian stars for the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympics.

On March 8, 2021, after fighting his first big match in Rome since the pandemic struck, he’s re-secured the 65-kg weight category number 1 spot in the world.  Doing the unthinkable, he defeated his Mongolian opponent in a nail-biting last 30 seconds of the match to clinch the Gold! High on positivity about repeating the same at the upcoming Olympics, he had been training in Michigan.

Awarded with some of the country’s highest honors since 2015, including Padma Shri, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and Arjuna Award, Punia started wrestling at age of 7 years by playing in the mud in his village in rural India; he hailed from a financially poor but deeply encouraging family. 

Punia took out time from his challenging routine to speak to India Currents about his devotion to discipline, training during the coronavirus lockdown, and why he has released statements urging the Indian government to resolve the 2020 farmers protest.   

Bajrang Punia shows off his Gold medal in Rome.
Bajrang Punia shows off his Gold medal in Rome.

IC: The announcement of nationwide lockdown in India and the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics came within hours of each other on March 24. What were your first thoughts? 

BP: First thoughts were definitely saddening – we were just three months away from the Olympics and preparing hard for it. But on second thought, we didn’t know such a virus would arrive and everything around the globe would stop. Lockdown gave me more time to work on my performance. Life is important, the Olympics can come again. 

IC: Tell us about your daily routine. 

BP: The most essential quality for a good athlete is discipline. Without discipline, you are a zero. And the next important thing is – diet. Maintaining these is crucial. If we are at a training center – like now – we have to wake up at 4-4.30 am. I wake up, bhagwan ka naam leta hoon (pray), get fresh, and have bananas or an apple before heading out. We have to be on the mat for the first match by 5 am irrespective of the season.     

During training, we take munakka (currant) and supplements. We drink badam (almond) being made right there in kundi sota (a traditional Indian grinding instrument set). It’s strengthening and body cooling. These are specific to Indian wrestlers. After training for 2-3 hours, go back, take lunch, shower, have milk, and sleep. The same routine is repeated in the evening. I sleep by 10 pm. About 9 hours of sleep is essential. If I’m at a local training camp (when at home), the routine is a little delayed, but the same.  

IC: How was lockdown spent? 

BP: The first month was disturbing. As players, we had never stayed at home before. Now, we had to appeal to people to stay indoors and set an example too. But then I started making arrangements so that my training doesn’t suffer. I took a room for rent near our house in Sonipat and got my partner Jitendra to practice with me. I requested our community in my village Khudan in Jhajjar district, Haryana, for the wrestling mat – which they immediately sent me and we set it in the room. I bought and set up gym equipment worth Rs6-7 lakh ($8,154-$9,153); my physiotherapist Manish Konwar Chetri was with me. And the training started! 

IC: When you are playing in the ring, do you feel connected with the audience and hear them? 

BP: No. When I am on the mat, I think nothing. My full concentration is on kushti. At world-level matches, all players are good. If at all I hear someone shouting/cheering, I think it’s for me; it cannot be for the opponent! 

IC: What is your favorite food? 

BP: Churma (a traditional sweet made with wheat and ghee) made by my mother is my favorite food but I cannot eat it often due to a restricted diet. I relish it after returning home from tournaments. 

IC: Which is your favorite wrestling match? 

BP: It was at the 2013 World Championship. This was my best ever and one of the first senior matches. I won a medal (bronze). Whenever I watch that bout, I think I have to do more. At that time, India had fewer medals in the world championship. If I can win this at the age of 18, I can definitely win it at the Olympics. 

IC: What facilities at your American training center for the Olympics would you want your Indian facility can accommodate?

BP: Indian centers have it all too in my opinion. But here at this center (Cliff Kleen Wrestling Club, Michigan), everything is under one roof – a gym beside the mat, basketball, football, steam, sauna, massage…everything. It helps. 

IC: You have released messages on social media for the government to resolve the largest ever ongoing farmers’ protest in India. What is your opinion on it?

BP: If the farmers are not happy with something, why try to force it on them? If the government believes it is beneficial to them, then sit with them and explain it. Why would farmers not understand? I come from a farmers’ family and thus I understand. If you go to my home, you will see my parents work in the fields. There isn’t a single family member in the job sector. Only I am an exception, a sportsman. Farmers won’t be on the road if there is a benefit in the three farm acts.  


Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist from Kolkata, India. 


 

India’s Shooting Star: In Talks With Deepika Kumari

With the changed dates of the Tokyo Olympics to July 23, 2021 – August 8, 2021, the livelihood of Olympians is in question. During this month of women’s empowerment, let’s underscore one of India’s most prominent female athletes.

Ranked World No. 1 archer at the tender age of 18 and at number 9 currently, India’s Deepika Kumari is an inspiration to thousands out there who dream to participate in the world championships but have practically no social or financial backing. If one breaks the mold and steps up to carry the baton of grit, determination, and achievements, many others are bound to follow. 

Kumari, on whom the award-winning documentary Ladies First was based, believes a calm mind is an archer’s biggest asset. Training at the national camp in Pune, India, with an eye on Gold at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, she shares the sweat and toil that goes behind shooting each arrow. Excerpts of a conversation:

IC: What were your first thoughts when the nationwide lockdown happened in March 2020?

DK: I didn’t think much about it initially. About two months later, the Olympics were postponed, which was good in a way as we were unable to do much while at home. But slowly, the uncertainty of when normal life would resume started getting to me. Our first training camp started on October 1. It was a long gap. 

IC: Did you continue training during the lockdown? 

DK: In the first few weeks, I practiced at home with the portable accessories which we use. These allow a shooting range of 3-4 meters. As an outdoor shooter, my range is 70 meters. Our physical exercises and yoga continued throughout though, alongside eating a whole lot of delicious home food. I also got married (to fellow archer Atanu Das) during this period. Lockdown had both good and bad.

IC: What are your most important assets as an archer – do you have a collection of bows and arrows? 

DK: I have two sets of these: two bows and arrows. One set is for daily practice; the second for competitions. In either case, one set I’m using, the second is in reserve. We keep around 6-7 dozen arrows with us made of carbon and wood. That apart, we have accessories/equipment for saving us – helmet, arm guard for elbow, chest guard for half chest, finger tab to protect our fingers from cutting against the thin string, sling so that the bow doesn’t fall, quiver for arrows. 

Atanu (my husband) has made my finger tab in leather – our desi jugaad. The string used on our bows is prepared by us in about 35 minutes using thread and wax. 

One bow lasts for about 1.5 years. It has various parts – the grip, arrow rest, clicker, limb (refer to picture attached) – which we purchase and assemble as per requirement. Different parts have varying lifespan. Limb lasts 6 months, string for 3 months, etc. We thus keep spares for replacement. Once used completely, we give the bow to other needy kids, sell it or throw it. 

We shoot about 450-500 arrows everyday during practice. We cut these arrows ourselves and assemble its various parts – fletch, feather, large and small points and nock. Each and every part of my gear is thus dear to me. 

Archer, Deepika Kumari

IC: Tell us something about your daily routine – what kind of workout and training you are undergoing daily before the Olympics? 

DK: We have our physical (exercises) from 6.30-7.30 every morning. And from 8.30 am-12 noon we practice shooting. We shoot anything between 350-450 arrows in this time and then it’s rest time. Again in the evening, we do physical from 6-7.30 pm, followed by short practice. We take complete rest on Wednesdays and Sundays. I watch movies, listen to songs, sleep, clean my room, wash clothes, and at times play cricket too!    

IC: Does the number of arrows you shoot in a day matter? 

DK: No, especially before competition, as quality matters more than quantity. We have to control the bow, draw the string as many times as the number of arrows shot. It needs physical power, called poundage. It’s significant to maintain that else you wouldn’t be able to shoot that big a distance in windy outdoor conditions. Continuous practice without long breaks is also critical in maintaining the poundage – something that didn’t happen during lockdown.

IC: Which parts of the body do you work on most rigorously? 

DK: The shoulder, since we have to pull a lot. But we require the whole body in archery. Your core should be stable to draw the string. You need energy to breathe through a match/session without gasping. Focusing with one eye is integral to this sport. Thus staying away from eye straining activities like smartphones is a prerequisite in daily life. And finally, mental training. 

IC: Concentration on the target – at what age did you first start this and how do you attain it day in day out? 

(Starts laughing) I am still a baby in this respect. I started mental training only three years ago. I strongly recommend kids should start focus and concentration exercises early in life. It is paradoxical: we run to sports for fun. And now, when as athletes or commoners we are given focus training, we find it challenging/boring. As a child, no one realizes that they are concentrating while playing. You are given a target; you use your gear, hit, and win! But now, as a competitive player, when your experience and expectations have increased tremendously and you are playing for long hours daily, there is pressure from family, media and even your own self to perform, you don’t know how to handle it all. Now I am learning this technique – mental training. Not allowing the mind to jump around like a monkey with hits and misses requires mental training. 

IC: Which skills matter the most in archery according to you? 

DK: You gain skills as a sportsperson, but get drained mentally. The skill that matters the most is being calm.  

IC: Do you think Indian archers need sports psychologists?

DK: Definitely. I started playing 12 years ago. Had I got this support at that time, I would have perhaps achieved much more… now, Olympic Gold Quest (a not-for-profit organization) is giving us mental training. 

IC: Tokyo Olympics would be your first big game since your wedding and you are participating as a couple in it. Excited?

It’s a rare happening for sure. And, perhaps, the first time in the history of Olympics archery at least! I am happy about it. We are each other’s pillar of strength. We want the team to win. 

IC: Which is your favorite match so far in your career? 

DK: I played (and won gold at) the Delhi Commonwealth Games (2010) when I was just starting out in my career. When I went to play the match, I was not aware of how significant a platform it was. My opponent in the finals Alison Williamson had already played six Olympics. It was an electrifying setting. People were cheering for me and there was wind too. The commentary was in perfect Hindi and with every arrow, my morale was getting higher. I had enjoyed it a lot. And I didn’t know or care that time about winning. But I did.

We look forward to a safe and successful 2021 Summer Olympics and send our best to Deepika Kumari on her upcoming competitions!


Suruchi Tulsyan is an experienced Features Writer. She has been on a break for the past few years since the birth of her kids.

Image by Bill Hails and under the Creative Commons License.