The curtains fell on the biggest sports event since the pandemic, the Olympics, with India ending on 48th place in the medals table, its highest ranking in 40 years. In the 1980 Moscow games, we finished 23rd but with just a solitary medal – the hockey gold. In Rio 2016, the medals tally was just two and so we finished at 67th. The pandemic may have resulted in smaller crowds but there was no shortage of inspiring moments.
Mirabai Chanu the weightlifter from Manipur lifted the spirits of our country as she ended a 21-year wait with a medal in weightlifting clinching a silver medal in the 49 Kg category to open India's account on the very first day of the competitions.
Ravi Dahiya the 23-year grappler born in Nahri village of the Sonepat district in Haryana, fetched a silver. Dahiya is a product of the national capital's Chhatrasal stadium which has previously given India two Olympic medallists, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
One of the strongest medal contenders heading to the Tokyo Olympics, PV Sindhu, snatched the bronze. The 26-year-old etched her name among the all-time greats after winning the woman singles bronze medal to add on to the silver she had won at Rio many years back when she became the first Indian woman and second overall from the country to achieve the feat. She was so dominant at the Tokyo games that she dropped only two games in the semi-final loss to Tai-Tzu-Ying in six matches.
Years of pain and disappointment were washed away as the Indian men's hockey team clinched the bronze. After the initial hiccup which saw the team losing out 7-1 to Australia in their second game, Manpreet Singh and his men made a strong comeback only losing to eventual champions Belgium with goalkeeper PR Sreejesh having a phenomenal tournament, standing like a wall against the attacks of the opponents.
Competing in her maiden Olympics, Lovlina Borgahain made news by clinching a bronze in women's boxing. Bajrang Punia won the bronze for India in wrestling… and, finally, how can one forget the new poster boy of Indian sports – Neeraj Chopra! There were bigger names with better records in javelin throw but while most of them succumbed to pressure Neeraj Chopra relished and revelled in the moment bringing a much-awaited gold home.
Mutaz Essa Barshim
There were many more inspiring moments in the Olympics but one incident that will be talked about for years to come has to be the one that happened on the 1st August 2021. A welcome dose of Olympic spirit was shown when Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi put friendship before individual glory in the men's high jump. The pair were tied after their final efforts and were offered the chance of a jump-off for victory before Barshim asked, ‘Can we have two golds?’, the answer was yes and the jumper friends – who both overcame injury setbacks to make it to the games – shared the top spot on the Olympics podium.
Barshim later said, ‘The moment is… of course, the sport we know, that’s the performances. But humanity, solidarity, unity... It is just like peace coming all together. This is beyond sport. This is a true message.’ There was nothing the jumpers wanted to prove, they understood each others’ greatness and only felt it was only fair that the medal be shared.
Sports has a unique way of bringing the best in people. This summer Olympics in Tokyo will truly stay as a glimmer of hope in our memory. It indeed brought the best of humanity together.