Rasheeda Bhagat

Olympian feats of Indian men and women

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on August 16, 2021

Golden arm Neeraj Chopra   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

In a welcome move, medallists as well as those who came close to winning medals are being rewarded by govt, corporates

The recently concluded Tokyo Olympics threw up so many heroes, not all with medals. For India, it was a bitter-sweet Games; we picked up seven medals for the first time, but got the 47th slot, behind tiny countries like Qatar (41— two gold and one bronze) and the Bahamas (42 — two gold).

Neeraj Chopra created history and sent over a billion plus hearts thumping by winning a gold in athletics for the first time ever. He did so not by government support but because Jindal Steel sponsored his training in Europe, something that an Indian Army subedar, and a farmer’s son, couldn’t dream of affording.

Bengaluru golfer Aditi Ashok came within a heartbeat of winning a medal, finishing fourth. Her plight was challenging indeed. She had to travel nearly 75km every day to reach the golf course in Tokyo from the Games Village where she was put up. Her competitors, including all the medalists, were staying at the IOC-approved hotels, which were within 2-30 minutes from the golf course.

With forecast of a storm for the final, she had to reach by 8 am; with 90 minutes needed to reach the place, 90 to warm up and 30 for breakfast, “I had to wake up at 3am and play golf with the world No. 1. And they say, ‘oh you fell short’”, she told the media.

Vinesh Phogat’s story is more distressing. A medal hopeful, her request “made long back and not at the last minute” to allow a physiotherapist to travel with the women wrestler’s team to Tokyo was not granted by the Indian officials. She asked: “Is it a crime to request one physiotherapist for four women wrestlers?”

But she too broke rules when she chose to wear a singlet of her own sponsor instead of the official one provided by the Indian contingent. The Wrestling Federation of India suspended her for indiscipline, and later she apologised.

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, the feisty women had suffered a career-threatening knee injury in the quarter-finals and had to be carried off on a stretcher. But she made an impressive comeback to win a gold at both the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018 and finished third at the World Championships in 2019.

The feisty Felix

But one feisty female hero from the Tokyo Olympics who picked up one gold and one bronze was Allyson Felix, the athlete who had taken on the mighty Nike and accused it of being “beyond disrespectful” to her in 2017 when she was pregnant. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times in 2019 she said Nike was unsupportive of pregnant women and new mothers and detailed her experience with the company, saying that after her contract ended in 2017, it offered her a 70 per cent pay cut, denying maternity protections she sought in the new contract.

Felix ultimately left Nike and endorsed Athleta, a women-focused apparel company, and also started her own shoe and lifestyle brand called Saysh.

She shared images of her welcome back home in California after winning two medals at Tokyo, and in one video, her adorable daughter Camryn, just two, is heard saying “I missed you.”

Thanks to a firm stand taken by such women athletes, Nike has since expanded its protection for pregnant women and new mothers.

While weightlifter Mirabai Chanu lifted our spirits by bagging a silver on the very first day of the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian women’s hockey team put up a spirited performance in Tokyo, failed short of a medal, but won both our hearts and respect. The home of Vandana Katariya, being attacked by some upper caste men after the Indian team lost the semi-final match against Argentina, made us hang our heads in shame. These men burst crackers, danced in mock celebration and hurled casteist abuses at the family.

Rewards galore

It was good to see that this time, not only the medalists, but also those who came close to winning, were cheered and rewarded by both our corporates and the government. The women’s hockey team members from some States were given ₹50 lakh each, but Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan did well in announcing ₹31 lakh for every member of the team!

The men’s hockey team triumphed and brought home a bronze, ending a 41-year-drought for an Olympics medal, and each member was rewarded even more handsomely. But while celebrating our Olympian heroes, let’s not forget wrestler Bajrang Punia, who threw out the tape from his injured knee, after losing in the semi-final and fighting for a bronze, which he won. He had a knee injury and said later that as the taped knee had restricted his movement in the semi-final, in the subsequent match he risked breaking his leg “because the medal was important!”

PV Sindhu made us proud by becoming the first Indian woman to get two medals in successive Olympics.

Published on August 16, 2021

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