India registered its highest-ever medal haul at the World University Games—11 gold, five silver, and 10 bronze—courtesy of some strong performances in shooting and archery. Before this edition, India had won just 18 medals in total, making the Chengdu Games a historic feat.
The Diary’s entry into Chengdu was nothing less than dramatic, with her luggage taken in by customs for further inspection. After a dreary Q&A session with the officers, the Diary finally exited the airport amid a warm welcome from volunteers and organisers.
Her room offered some contrasting views as the Diary surveyed the surroundings of her hotel. While far ahead stood skyscrapers and buildings with complicated architecture, directly below her window she spotted old-school structures with red lanterns hanging on either side of the door, giving a sense of a festive atmosphere.
The city of Chengdu had been patiently waiting for two years to host the World University Games, with its 2021 plans foiled by COVID-19. The venues and necessary nitty-gritty had been kept ready for the past two years, awaiting the extravaganza that spanned from July 28 to August 8.
The opening ceremony left no stone unturned despite the strict protocols and extreme security arrangements. It was an impressive cultural spectacle filled with fireworks – featuring the mascot Rongbao, performances by several minority groups, Tejaswin Shankar and Manu Bhaker as India’s flagbearers, the University Games torch being lit and at the end, the Chinese President Xi Jinping declaring the Games open.
As the University Games got going, so did the Diary’s hustle to try and catch up with athletes and make it to the venues on time by hook or by crook, even if it meant taking the subway. Luckily for her, people with the accreditation card were given a free pass.
The limited Mandarin that the Diary had learned prior to the Games didn’t prove to be very effective when speaking with the athletes and organisers. Thankfully, reaching out to Chinese athletes turned out to be easy, courtesy of the attaché, who was assigned to her by the organisers and was well-versed in the local language.
However, the Diary had to communicate with athletes of other East Asian countries, who neither had a translator nor were fluent in English. Luckily, her fascination for Korean and Japanese shows and a few ‘Annyeonghaseyo’ and ‘Konnichiwa’ came in handy in the situation.
A familiar sound in all the venues that the Diary visited was the chant of ‘Zhōngguó Jiāyóu’, which translates to ‘Come on, China!’ Yet another usual sight was that of people exchanging pins, be it a small Rongbao pin or a pin of the venues.
While she may have missed Jyothi Yarraji’s bronze medal and her national record-breaking performance in the 100m hurdles, the Diary was fortunate enough to see the predominately Chinese crowd singing the birthday song for Elavenil Valarivan, who turned 24 on the day she won silver with Divyansh Panwar in the 10m air rifle mixed team event.
‘Ela’, as they call her in Chengdu, also received a panda key chain as a birthday present from the Games organising committee.
The constant hustle across different venues took a toll on the Diary, a vegetarian who pretty much survived on fruits, French fries, bubble tea and pastries during the Games. While the familiar K-pop songs with a cheerleading squad dancing to it and a light show before most of the final events did brighten her up, it was the strong aroma of the hotpot that lifted her mood.
By the end of the Games, the introverted Diary had opened up page-by-page and was melancholy while leaving the friends she had made and the city she had grown to like.
Nevertheless, as per the motto, the Chengdu Games did make ‘dreams come true’ for the student-athletes and, certainly, yours truly.
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