Swapna Barman, Manjit Singh, Tejendra Pal Singh, and Sajjan Prakash are breaking the barriers and have changed Indian sports for better. NDA Government’s policy impetus has to be recognised as well in bringing forth such a pool of talent
Swapna Barman suffered from a toothache for two days and played with bandaged jaws. It could not stop her from walking away with a heptathlon gold medal, India’s first ever in Asian Games history. In her journey from Jalpaiguri to Jakarta, she had faced so many hardships in life that trivialities like tooth-ache are too little and too small when compared to them.
Her father, a rickshaw puller suffered a stroke in 2013 and has been bedridden since then. Her mother worked as a tea picker in the estate. She started as the high jumper, but she was told that she is too short to carry in the event. Picked for an SAI trial after two rejections in 2011 and 2012, she broadened her repertoire and focused on sharpening disciplines she was good with.
It was a unique challenge for her as she added toes started to cut into her leg movements. After all, she has struggled to get shoes for her six toes all her life. She had met many doctors and experts and been in rehab for days together. All these combined to make her so tough in life that she won a gold medal at the Asian Games. After winning the gold, she said:-‘everything hurts and has been injured-ankle, knee, and back, fingers and now tooth”. Her family broke down and cried after she won the gold. Swapna is the sole earning member of the family, and she has coped up with all the difficulties in her life with a simple sentence, “Why to bother when I am there”.
Swapna’s father is a rickshaw puller who suffered a stroke in 2013 and has been bedridden since then. Her mother worked as a tea picker in the estate
Changing Narrative, Breaking Barriers
The company in which Manjit Singh worked refused to renew his contract saying that he was not good enough and young enough to improve on the tracks. In Jakarta, he got a historic Asian Games gold medal in men’s 800 meters. Between 2016 and the finishing line in 2018, his is the inspirational story of never giving up your dream at any cost. When ONGC in 2016 decided against extending his contract after the sprinter failed to win medals at the national or international level, Manjit approached army chief coach Amrish Kumar. After Kumar agreed to take Manjit under his tutelage, he trained with him at the national camp at Ooty. His father, who is a dairy farmer, bore the expenses for his out-of-job son. There still was the gap between the lip and the sip.
He failed to qualify for Asian Championships 2017 and Commonwealth Games 2018. Finally, he qualified for Asian Games after finishing second at Inter-State Athletics Championships in Guwahati. He narrowly qualified for the finals at the Games in Indonesia as the 8th fastest in the heats. And, then came the final hour, rather, we can call it the final few seconds. With 50m to go and three athletes ahead of him, Manjit displayed some unbelievable burst off the pace. In the process, he also bettered his personal best by 9 seconds as he clocked 1:46:15. Manjir, rightfully, has now set his eyes on the Olympics.
While Tejender Pal Singh Toor’s father is battling cancer and he had to make plenty of sacrifices to attain glory for India. He won shot put gold in the games. After winning the medal, he could not stop himself from meeting the family. For this, is going to be a special meeting. Tejinder said to the reporters waiting outside the village-“This medal is my biggest achievement because a lot of sacrifices have been made. For the last two years, my father has been battling with cancer. My family though never let me get distracted. They allowed me to chase my dream. A lot of sacrifices have been made by my family and friends, and all those have paid today. My family never pressurised to attend my father in the hospital, and it was always my friend who took care of all the hospital formalities in my absence. I have not gone home much in this period since I was training in Dharamsala. Now I will meet my dad, but I will be there for only two days. I have to get ready for the next challenge”. Tejender may spend only 48 hours with the family, but this is going to be a special meeting.
Sports Minister of the country, Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore, 48, was seen in a formal suit, holding a tray as he spoke to Indian sportspersons at a dining area at the games village in Jakarta
The devastating floods in Kerala challenged many lives. One of them was swimmer Sajjan Prakash, who hails from Idukki district of the state. He was unaware of where his maternal family was in flood-hit Kerala. His mother chooses to keep the news from him. He was not the only Indian athlete who was trapped in this situation as over 40 athletes from the state oscillated between anxiety and concern for the loved ones while trying to focus on their Asian Games campaign. Muhammed Anas Yahiya, who won the silver medal, hails from Nilamel town near the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.
Bharat has got more gold medals than the previous Asian Games four years ago. Bharat’s overall medal tally has also improved. But, sports are not only about medal counts. Sports are not only about the victories and the finishing lines. These moments come too far and too few in any sportspersons life. That too, if at all they come. Sports are about the sweat and blood, challenges and hurdles and crisis and adversities which the sportspersons go through on the long and arduous path to the stardom.
In a way, more than gold medals and the tally, Asian Games 2018 is the story of the grit, determination, ambition and fight unto the last breathe of the emerging new India. It’s another incredible story of the triumph of the daughters of the country. Vinesh Phogat, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have reaffirmed the faith that the fight of the daughters of the country to get the coveted gold in Tokyo 2020 is going to continue. Indian hockey team- both men and women are back on track. The time has come when the countries may indeed cheer in unison- Phir dil do hockey do.
The memorable pictures of Jakarta were indeed those pictures of the real heroes who stood on the podium and who wrapped themselves with the tricolour. The refreshing long-term picture of Jakarta is the emergence of the young sporting stars in the horizon of Indian sports. One of the major narratives in the overall picture of the India story in Jakarta is about the spread of the medals which the country has got across the disciplines. However, there was one picture which was speaking of thousands of words. The Sports Minister of the country, Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore, 48, was seen in a formal suit, holding a tray as he spoke to Indian sportspersons at a dining area at the games village in Jakarta.
It comes as a paradigm shift regarding the sports minister appreciating the athletes. It sends across an overwhelming message as to how the athletes should be the prime and supreme focus. And, the message has come right from the top. Along with this, the special campaigns like ‘Hum fit to India fit’ and ‘Khelo India’ are all geared to bring about a transformative change in the realms of Indian Olympics. The fight to be amongst the top in the medal tally may appear long, difficult and arduous, but if our athletes are fighting poverty, cancer and identity could do this, so could the country as a whole.
(The writer is a well-known sports journalist)