Long jumper M. Sreeshankar feels the Paris Olympics in 2024 is going to be very special, not just for Indian athletics but for sports in the country in general. He was speaking at the Sportstar National Sports Conclave in a panel titled ‘Eyeing the Paris Podium’. Rifle shooter Anjum Moudgil, India hockey star Rani Rampal, Tokyo 2020 Paralympic gold medallist in badminton, Pramod Bhagat, and boxing World Champion Nikhat Zareen were also a part of the discussion.
“In an event like athletics, we didn’t have any medals until 2020. We have come very close with PT Usha and Anju (Bobby George) ma’am’s performance, but with Neeraj (Chopra) bhaiya removing that mental block with that gold medal in Tokyo, I am sure Paris 2024 will be something special for athletics and Indian sports,” Sreeshankar, who also celebrated his birthday at the event by cutting a cake on stage, said.
While Sreeshankar had his first Olympic experience in the Tokyo edition, Nikhat is yet to make her debut at the Summer Games. However, the 26-year-old, who, on Sunday, emerged as World Champion for the second straight year, says it is now her ultimate dream. “I don’t have any idea of how the Olympics is. If I qualify for Paris, that will be my first experience. The stories they are sharing now are making me a bit nervous. But I am mentally strong enough to tackle the challenge. So, I am working really hard,” Nikhat said.
The Indian shooting team had been one of the strongest contingents at the previous edition of the Games. However, in a major disappointment, it returned empty-handed. Moudgil had been a part of that squad. On Monday, she said, “Our shooters were doing so well throughout the year, so the expectations were high. The pressure increases. There is so much going on at every level. There are a lot of controversies. Suddenly, there is also so much importance given that our training schedule is hampered.
“If you are giving so much respect to an athlete when he or she wins, he or she deserves the same respect when they don’t do well. Shooting went through a tough phase after Tokyo. There were negative things. But it was a learning. Ignoring all of that, you have to keep shooting high scores. I have been in this sport for 15 years, it took me 14 years to be World No. 1. I am sure this experience will help me in my preparation for next year.”
Meanwhile, Rampal reflected on the highs and lows of her Olympic journey. “I started my Olympic journey with 2008 qualification. I was so young back then. I saw my seniors crying when they lost the 2008 qualifiers. I didn’t understand why they were crying. Now I know. Because there may not be a next time for a few of them. In 2012, we lost again in the Olympic qualifier. I thought that was it. You feel alone. There was no support. In 2016, we qualified but finished 12th (last). That was a totally different experience. After Tokyo - where the Indian team just lost out on the bronze medal - we feel we can take on others.”
Bhagat wishes the para-shuttlers continue to receive the same support and adulation. “After 2020, the media started giving us attention. Things are changing though. When I started, things were very different. The people trust you to do good now. Our mindset now is that the support we get, we are going to retrun the faith. We are going to double our medal count of 19 last time.”
The Conclave was held in association with Hero We Care, a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, ONGC, Jain University, Vajiram & Ravi, Institute for IAS Examination, Cric HQ, ShivNaresh and News X.