Indian Olympians regale gathering at book launch

With the Rio Olympics just a month away, Indian Olympians from different eras relived their experience at the launch of the book 'My Olympic Journey' on Wednesday.

Gagan Narang admitted he 'got a monkey off his back' by winning the Olympic medal in London.   -  R. Ragu

With the Rio Olympics just a month away, Olympians from different eras relived their experience at the launch of the book 'My Olympic Journey', on Wednesday.

Written by television journalists Digvijay Singh Deo and Amit Bose, the book, published by Penguin, captures the experiences of 50 Olympians, more than a dozen of whom would be competing again in Rio. The personal narration of some of the finest sportspersons like Abhinav Bindra, Milkha Singh, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Balbir Singh, Leander Paes, Sushil Kumar, Karnam Malleswari, Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, P. T. Usha, Randhir Singh, Yogeshwar Dutt, Gagan Narang, Vijay Kumar and Krishna Poonia etc. makes it a dream compilation for any sports lover.

The man with three Olympic gold medals, Balbir Singh was quite humble in saying that he happened to be part of the team and the captain as well. "It was the team’s victory, more than that, it was the country’s victory. Balbirs will come and Balbirs will go, but the nation goes on," said the great Balbir, as he set the tempo for the evening.

Ronjan Sodhi made some light remarks about the experiences with the shooters during the London Games, while it was recalled how wrestler Sushil Kumar happily gave his silver medal for a video shoot of Vijay Kumar whose silver was in army’s custody.

The president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Raninder Singh, praised the government for spending about Rs. 40 crore on shooting and predicted that the shooters could win three to six medals.

Moraad Ali Khan reinforced the point by putting Indian shooting in two phases, and praised the change in attitude and positive outlook of the current generation. Jagbir Singh, the striker par excellence on the hockey field and a respected commentator, also pointed out the changed outlook of the hockey players and said that the team could capitalise on the new format that featured quarterfinals.

"It is too early to say anything. We are in a tough pool. We have won medals in World league and Champions trophy. I am keeping fingers crossed," Jagbir remarked.

Talking from Hannover, World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra pointed out how the loss in Athens had completely detached him from the outcome, and forced him to focus on the process, shot by shot. "I have no clue, no view," Bindra shot back when asked about his assessment of the Indian contingent, of over 100 sports persons.

'Monkey off my back'

Gagan Narang, who has also won World and Olympic medals, recalled how his parents had to be hospitalised when he missed the final on countback when five had tied on 595, in the Beijing Games. "It made me push the limits, and get better every single day. I told my parents that I was still their son, even if I didn’t win a medal. That medal in London got a huge monkey off my back. I didn’t sleep for a long time," observed Narang.

Weighlifter Karnam Malleswari, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal, emphasised that the thought of missing gold still hurt her. "I had gone to win gold. But destiny had only bronze against my name. I had done much better in training and competition than what I did in Sydney. It was on a technical point that they didn’t pass my lift of 137 kg in clean and jerk," Malleswari explained.

Former World champion in trap Manavjit Sandhu, gunning for his fourth Olympics, said that he could not understand the plight of Bindra or Narang after they had won the medal, and said that 'give us a medal and we will show how to celebrate', as he took Ronjan Sodhi also for support to press the point. "As sportspersons we lose a lot more than we win. So we know how to deal with it," said Manavjit Sandhu.

Boxer Akhil Kumar regaled the gathering with his straight punches on the anchor Gaurav Kalra, who did a splendid job of maintaining the tempo of discussions for more than an hour.

Akhil sought that the book be published in Hindi, and said that nobody would like to read about people who did not win, like him.

"I eat and sleep well. Life goes on," said Akhil. He was quick to say that once the draw was made for boxing in Rio, he would be able to assess the chances of the Indian boxers.