When India cannot win medals in shooting, the hope to get a decent medal tally instantly diminishes. That is what happened in the recently concluded Asian Games 2010 in China. But while Indian shooting stars did not shine as well as they do at all multi event international competitions, the supposedly ugly ducklings who seemed to have transformed into the beautiful swans were the athletes, especially women athletes representing the country. In fact India would have never finished 6th on the culmination of the event if not for the golden girls like Preeja and Ashwini Akkunji who clearly set the standards for others to follow in the future.
After the first week of the event, things looked dismal for India. It had just 2 gold medals in its kitty thanks to Ronjan Sodhi the shooter and Pankaj Adwani the snooker champion. Even a country like Singapore was way ahead. While it wasn’t a hugely shocking result tally as India was always known to be a non threatening participant, it did bring the thought to one’s mind that the recent commonwealth success was just matter of good luck.
Then came the 10,000m race with the beginning of track and field events on 21st November. Two Indian girls, Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut vere prominently visible in their blue outfits in the first bunch of girls completing the laps. As the last lap began, so did rise the hope in every Indians heart. It did look like things were set to improve for the nation and it finally did as Preeja and Kavita finished a commendable first and second and even had the energy to perform a victory lap, smiling and taking in the glory that came with such a feat.
As event after event unfolded the smiles on Indian faces broadened. It was not luck by chance, but sweet rewards of hard work and perseverance. Ashwini Akkunji began the 400m hurdle in style and finished in style, winning gold with other athletes far away from her reach. The women 4 x 400m relay was also not a chance escape but a diligently thought out plan that gave results.
If the previous absence of gold medals did not really surprise many Indians, the presence of them in such quantity and coming from track and field events certainly did. No one thought it could be done except perhaps the athletes themselves. It was perhaps also easier for them to win on the tracks because all of them come from family backgrounds where the battle for daily bread is a constant affair.
Preeja’s father died when she was very young and her mother worked at neighbor’s homes to make ends meet. Kavita lives in the adivasi belt near Nasik, the only sister of four brothers. She chose to be an athlete because it could be done barefooted.
Sadly, it is only after these women have proven their worth, that we wish to know more about them and elevate their financial status. If India has the second highest population in the world, surely we have sports potential too equal or just second to China. But while the Chinese take sports as seriously as their manufacturing capabilities or their intellectual achievements, in India every success is hailed after it is achieved.
Isn’t it time that talents are nurtured earlier and recognitions, financial benefits offered before athletes make their mark? Like the seedling that needs a proper environment to grow and finally bear fruits, these athletes too can repeatedly make bigger contributions if their potential recognized right in time. To scoot for diamonds in the coal mine is really the need of the hour if Indian really wants to be known for its sports proficiency too.