Down but not out! These athletes are still holding India’s hopes high at the Olympics

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© Getty Images

Down but not out! These athletes are still holding India’s hopes high at the Olympics

Four days into the Olympics and Indians had to suffers heartbreaks and disappointments as our favorite stars lost out on medals. But is it too soon to write them off?

It was supposed to be India's best performance at the Olympic stage. 116 years after Norman Pritchard won silver for his adopted nation, we were finally going to hit that magical double-digit mark. 120-odd athletes had made the travel from India to the Carnival city, in contrasting fashions – some with fervid send-off celebrations like the hockey team, but most of them anonymously as just another cattle-class passenger. Some came in with an intact legacy – despite his shenanigans, Paes will remain one of our greatest. Some still wished to sign off draped in the tri-color – Bindra deserved that send-off, while all that some hoped for was taking one step ahead, however small for India – Dipa Karmakar became India's first-ever Olympic gymnast kindling the dreams of countless young girls across this nation hungry for the tiniest possible hope to latch on to.

Expectations were high after the Olympic Contingent won 6 medals at London Olympics, but the Rio campaign hit a speed bump on the first day as Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna crashed out in the first round of men's doubles. It was even more agonizing to see the duo lose in straight sets to Poland’s Marcin Matkowski & Lukasz Kubot.

The second day started with the Deepika Kumari-led archery team losing the quarterfinals to Russia. It was followed by Heena Sidhu's elimination from the Women's 10m air pistol event as another medal hopes were extinguished. But India's first female gymnast Dipa Karmarkar rekindled the hope by entering the finals of artistic gymnastics.

But the third day was again painful for the Indian contingent as 2008 Olympic Gold Medallist Abhinav Bindra narrowly missed out on a medal finishing fourth after losing the shoot-out. Among all the disappointed people, the great Shobaa De also seems to have lost hope on this talented bunch at Rio. “Goal of Team India at the Olympics: Rio jao. Selfies lo. Khaali haat wapas aao. What a waste of money and opportunity.” tweeted Miss De. But how fair is it to crucify the athletes harshly after a mere 4 days into the event?

Definitely the expectations among fans have gone up after London Olympics which indicates that the Indian public has confidence in our athletes' abilities. Dipa Karmakar’s father and coach have expressed their difficulty in getting proper sleep at night due to the weight of expectations. With expectations come disappointments when the expectations are not met followed by angst and criticism.

 © Getty Images

The Indian Contingent at London Olympics sure had star athletes but were expected to return with one or two medals which has been the trend for many years. After Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar won the medals in shooting, a sport which India developed a reputation to win medals, only Sushil Kumar was expected to replicate his Athens Olympics heroics in Wrestling. But it was not only Sushil who went on to better the record with a Silver. Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal and Yogeshwar Dutt brought medals home which surprised many detractors. Also it is to be noted that the last four medals were won in the second half of the 15-day event(12th,14th and 15th days). There is still time where our star performers can unveil their best performance. Boxing, Wrestling and Badminton all start towards the business end of the Olympics, so we need to wait for Shiva Thapa, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt, Narsingh Yadav to shine.

 © Saina Nehwal Facebook

However, there are also talents in the Indian Contingent who can make it big in this Olympics. The Indian Hockey Team has shown that big teams are not going to have easy against us with wins against Ireland and Argentina. They have snatched a win from what seemed like a draw against Ireland with a last-minute goal. Their defeat against defending champions Germany was painful as the reigning champions scored the lucky winner with just 3 seconds remaining. But this team is learning from their mistakes as they soaked up immense pressure from the Argentinian attack in the final quarter of their third match to come out victorious against the South Americans for the first time since 2009. They have also answered the critic’s questions about their lack of field goals when Kothajit Singh smashed a top corner in the 34th minute. Even though they need to work on giving away easy penalty corners, they seem to have a great chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Atanu Das’s display in archery also raises hopes for India as he entered the round of 16 with a win against Cuba’s Adrian Andres Puentes Perez.

Dipa Karmakar’s  will produce her Produnova in a few days in the final. Badminton hopes Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu are yet to step into the court. Boxer Shiva Thapa is yet to throw a punch in this Olympics. Narsingh Yadav and Yogeshwar Dutt are yet to warm up before they wrap their opponents in a stranglehold. There is much more to look forward.

In the worst case scenario that we return empty-handed from Rio, there will still be so many positives to be taken for India from this event. This is the first time that more than 120 athletes are representing India, which clearly shows the improvement in one of the biggest problems in Indian sport - the lack of support structures like training facilities and professional support staff. The shooters and hockey team would have made it so far without these. There has been tremendous support from corporates who have taken it upon themselves to see the Indian tricolor at the Olympics - the Jindals have supported Narsingh and the other wrestlers all through. Deepika Kumari has been under the aegis of the Tata academy at Jamshedpur.

Like they say, the night is always dark before the dawn. The greatest dawn in Indian Olympic history might be beckoning, and it needs all our support when our athletes need us the most.

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