Underperformance at the Olympics, the world’s biggest stage
By – Boria Majumdar
It is almost a pattern. Indian athletes performing below their personal best at the Olympics. Be it Seema Punia or Vikas Gowda, Ranjith Maheshwari or Mohammed Anas, the story is the same. Except Lalita Babar, who did a wonderful 9.19 in the 3000m steeplechase qualification, almost every athlete has performed below their personal best.
Questions need to be asked. Overhaul the system immediately. Indians who do splendidly in trials in Bengaluru or elsewhere fail to match up to their own performances on the biggest stage of them all,
Take Ranjith Maheshwari. He is a veteran and has been to Olympic Games before. So the question of Olympic nerves just does not apply. In the past, Maheshwari has had the acrimonious distinction of fouling all his three jumps at the Olympics. This time round, he didn’t but his efforts of 15.80m, 16.13m were much less than what he had done to qualify. Maheshwari, less than a month earlier had leapt 17.30m, a performance that would have given him a podium finish in Rio. The cut off for the final was a reasonable 16.85m, which Maheshwari could have crossed given his form coming into the Games. But, a very poor 15.80m to start with and a 16.13m thereafter and Maheshwari ended up 30th in the men’s triple jump.
Maheshwari is not alone and nor do I want to single him out. Vikas Gowda has done a 64 plus in the past in discus. Seema Poonia has done a 62. Both could not cross 59 and 58 meters respectively. Manpreet Kaur was way below her personal best of 17.96 in shotput. Mohammed Anas in the 400 meters was not even close to his personal best.
What is the story here? While the athletes may not be doing anything illegal – i.e. like masking performance enhancing agents, there must be an explanation why they fail to do personal bests at the Olympics. While I support our athletes and the hard work they put in, it is natural to expect them to exceed expectations in Rio.
Like a Lalita Babar or a Dipa Karmakar or a Dattu Bhokanal. Dipa’s fourth place finish has been celebrated like a medal back home. In a nation starved of sports champions, it is only natural this will be the case. Dattu, who did a 6.54 should be celebrated as well. It is exceptional for an Indian rower to do an under 7 performance and Dattu has done so repeatedly in Rio. Lalita too was brilliant when she did a 9.19 though she was unable to match her own feat in the final finishing with a lame 9.22 plus to come 10th.
There is a pattern in our athletes’ qualification. Suddenly from a handful, a huge number of Indian athletes made the cut a month or two before the games. Records were broken by the minute with every second athlete doing his or her personal best. And the very same lot start to complain the moment they land in Rio. From coaches to physios to lack of proper training facilities, the excuses keep pouring in from the track members of the Indian contingent.
If the AFI and the powers that be are listening, it is time to say enough is enough. We are seeing through what is going on and unless urgent correctives are put in place, we will be in denial mode. Which will only hurt Indian sports in the long run. The athletes will bag a handful of medals in the CWG and suddenly all will be well. There will be national records broken and stellar performances in the lead up to Tokyo in 2020, to fail miserably again at the biggest stage of them all.
We need an overhaul with immediate effect. And a system in place to demand accountability from these men and women. Yes India spends 100th of what the Brits spend on Olympic medals (5.5million pounds on each medal at an average) but what we spend need to be put into good use. Spend on deserving men and women than those who deceive us time and again.
It is time for intervention from the top. Vijay Goel who was here to encourage and inspire the athletes can actually look into transforming the system. Rather than coming here and kicking up a storm, we need him to put a structure in place that will give us athletes who don’t fail at the Olympic stage.
More than a medal, we need men and women to do their personal best. Make themselves and us proud, Not take the country for a ride.
Boria Majumdar (Historian / Writer / Commentator / Journalist)
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The Indian Telegraph Sydney Australia