Former India sportsmen and Olympians on what went wrong for India in Rio.
Gian Singh (WRESTLING)
One medal from eight wrestlers was a below par performance. The controversy surrounding Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav affected every wrestler and it reflected in the overall result.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) should have handled the matter with more maturity. After Narsingh, who tested positive for a banned steroid, was given a clean chit by the National Anti-Doping Agency disciplinary panel, the WFI should not have taken off Praveen Rana to include Narsingh. As expected, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) moved the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Narsingh’s ban rendered us helpless. We could not even field a wrestler in the 74 kg freestyle category.
Sadly, the men’s freestyle wrestlers, who had bagged two medals last time, drew a blank.
In Greco-Roman, we do not prepare youngsters from the grassroots level with the right kind of coaching. So we had no chance in that style.
Sakshi Malik’s medal was a welcome relief. Vinesh Phogat was a strong medal contender but she suffered an injury midway through a bout. The overall scenario of women’s wrestling looks bright.
The WFI should do some introspection and address the real issues in order to help India perform better in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Anju Bobby George (ATHLETICS)
No doubt, it was a disappointing performance by our athletes. I will not blame the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for it; or for that matter, the Sports Ministry, the Sports Authority of India or the Government — all of them gave full support to the athletes.
Discus thrower Vikas Gowda, a Target Olympic Podium (TOP) athlete was carrying a shoulder injury but did not disclose it to anybody.
As far as Renjith Maheshwary (triple jump) and Ankit Sharma (long jump) are concerned, their performance in Rio 2016 raises eyebrows. There is a mismatch between their performances in the qualifiers and in Rio 2016. There is a huge difference between what Renjith did in Bangalore (17.30m) and in the qualification round in the Olympics (16.13m). Normally, one should maintain the same performance for at least one or two months.
It was the case with Ankit Sharma too — he did 8.17m in Kazakhstan while qualifying for the Olympics, but in the qualification round in Rio, the long jumper cleared only 7.67m.
Tintu Luka (800m), obviously, failed to lift her standards.
Seema Punia (discus) trained in Russia despite the AFI not giving her permission. The Olympics is the biggest and the most difficult stage as the best of athletes participate here. But I think we should have done better.
Limba Ram (ARCHERY)
What can I say! Much was expected of our archers but they could not live up to it. There is no doubt that Deepika Kumari is a very good archer, and everybody knows that. The women’s team lost a close match to Russia in the quarterfinals.
On his debut, I thought, Atanu Das did well. Bombayla Devi Laishram is a bold shooter who did her best.
The team as such was very good. They have been doing well in events prior to the Olympics. Deepika’s performance, I think, has to do with mental issues. Psychologically, she was lacking. One hour of mental training every day is necessary for our archers. I support all archers, but in Olympics, their performance was just below expectations.
V. Devarajan (BOXING)
There is no excuse for the poor performances of our boxers in Rio. Shiva Thapa was no match for his Cuban opponent Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana, who showed extraordinary fitness.
Vikas Krishan looked like a boxer taking on an opponent (Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan) from a much heavier weight category.
Manoj Kumar was no match for Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov.
Overall, it was an unimpressive show. The reasons for this are not far to seek. There has been no Indian federation for nearly four years, no proper coach and hence no proper guidance. There were no sparring partners for our boxers prior to the event. In the absence of a federation, there was no control, too. It was free for all. The scene looked like a class without a teacher where the kids were having a field day! The sooner a boxing federation is formed the better it is for the sport.
Nikhil Kanetkar (BADMINTON)
Overall, it was a commendable performance by India. In the doubles, this is the first time that a men’s pair had qualified for the Olympics. Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy also beat the Japanese pair, Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa.
In the singles, it was unfortunate that Saina Nehwal injured her knee. However, Kidambi Srikanth almost beating Lin Dan and P. V. Sindhu winning the silver medal was great.
I think after Saina’s medal in London 2012, we saw a big surge in badminton all over the country. It’s just going to grow after Sindhu’s achievement. I am sure we’re going to have a lot more kids playing badminton. Hopefully, we will get a lot more support from various sectors, like the government, the corporates or whatever.
Normally what happens is we see the Sainas, the Sindhus, the Srikanths and Kashyaps, but there are many more talented players, who also need the support. This is going to happen now. I think it’s a good time now to look ahead. You never know, we had a bronze in London and silver in Rio. Maybe gold in Tokyo. Let’s see.
Ramesh Krishnan (TENNIS)
Given the circumstances and the combination, it was a performance neither good nor bad. Not much was expected of the men’s doubles pair of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, as they had not played together in the run-up to Rio 2016. It would have been unwise to expect anything else from the Paes-Bopanna duo.
I think Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna played very well in the semifinals and the bronze medal play-off match. It was unfortunate they lost. They had two good wins especially against Andy Murray and Heather Watson. Setting aside everything, I think we should focus on good singles players for Davis Cup ties in the future. That would be better.
V. Baskaran (HOCKEY)
For the kind of investment made, and the media hype following it, I believe the Indian team came a cropper. The coach, Roelant Oltmans, was unable to deliver on his promises.
The biggest positive from the debacle in Rio is that we have found two all-round players in Harmanpreet Singh and Surender Kumar.
The major drawback is that our execution was very poor in the striking zone. Frankly speaking, we lacked the players of the calibre of Dhanraj (Pillay), Mukesh (Kumar), Deepak (Thakur), Prabhjot Singh and Gagan Ajit Singh — and I am not going to talk of the players of my era.
Against Belgium (in the quarterfinals), it was a meek surrender by India. I was disappointed. I think we need to have a rethink on Sardara Singh’s position. Except for one game, where he played in the midfield, in the rest of the matches he played as an all-out forward. He was not effective.
We didn’t have a Plan ‘B’ or ‘C’ in place. Except for the match against Ireland, late in the third quarter, where we played with five forwards, we didn’t use five forwards at all. Which according to me is a bad strategy.
Defender Ramandeep Singh was given a long rope despite not performing to expectations. Moreover, the practice of having 40 players in the core group should be scrapped. I didn’t see any great improvement in Manpreet Singh or Kothajit. Oltmans might have had grand plans (in his laptop) but on the ground, they were not executed properly.
Ashok Pandit (SHOOTING)
I was hoping for a maximum of two or three medals. I don’t want to name anyone, but three shooters could not get their normal scores. All others performed well but were not lucky to get into the final. And when Abhinav Bindra did qualify (final in 10m air rifle), the decimal score was tied and his rival won a medal on the final shot. Luck plays a very big role in the final after the ISSF brought in the rule that all finalists start on zero. There is no point in being dejected with our performances; we should rather review and plan.
Try to understand, other nations already ahead of us are also improving. If you want to beat them, the rate of progress should be a lot quicker.
Planning for the next Olympics will start. Planning does not necessarily mean that you will return with a medal from Tokyo (2020 Games). If every nation preparing for the Games ends up winning, then only three participants should be there.
My expectation from Indian shooters at international competitions abroad is that they should perform as well as they have done at home.
(As told to K. Keerthivasan, Y. B. Sarangi, Amol Karhadkar & Nandakumar Marar)
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