Rio 2016: There are some magical stories in this batch of Indian women players, says Suhail Chandhok
Suhail Chandhok played domestic cricket at the highest level in Australia. He is now in Rio as a commentator for both the men’s and women’s hockey competitions, in both of which he believes India has a strong chance.
A passionate sportsperson, Chandhok explains how and why the Indian contingent is so confident of success this Olympics, and what it’s like to be surrounded by Olympians.
Excerpts from an interview.
India has a strong contingent of women athletes at Rio. What are your expectations?
It really is heartening to see the number of female athletes increase in strength. But I think before we talk about expectations, we need to laud a lot of the women who are in Rio just their qualification.
To make it to the Olympics takes years of consistent dedication, hard work and tireless commitment, knowing that you could still very easily miss the bus in getting there or miss a medal on the day.
We all know the big names like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Sania Mirza. But there are some magical stories in this batch of women players. The return of the Indian women’s hockey team to the Olympics after 36 years is truly wonderful. Having Dipa Karmakar as the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify is inspiring. Young Aditi Ashok has capped a purple patch with her golf selection which bodes well for her future. Vinesh Phogat and Babita Kumari carry a lot of confidence in the wrestling, while Dutee Chand and Lalita Babar’s roads to Rio, in addition to all the other women who have powered their way to Brazil for the track & field events, have proved that Indian athletics has the potential to threaten the best despite the lack of support.
I think it’s hard to put a number on the medals expected, but to me every Indian woman in Brazil at the moment should serve as an absolute inspiration to young India, and push corporate India to look at the Olympic dream and not just the big ticket sports of our country like cricket.
To me every Indian woman in Brazil at the moment should serve as an absolute inspiration to young India
What makes the Olympics special for players?
The Olympics is the greatest sporting extravaganza in the world. What makes it special and cruel at the same time is that the opportunity to come away with an Olympic medal comes once in four years and you spend three years and 364 days waiting for that one chance, that one moment that could turn your life around or just go by before you can even respond in the manner with which you approached it.
Talking to a few of our former Olympians made me think of how hard it must be to stay focused on the job when you’re at breakfast in the Olympic village and suddenly have Rafa Nadal or Usain Bolt walk up and ask if the seat across you is taken.
Being a small fish in a big pond can be frightening but it is also the greatest mental and physical test for any athlete, which makes it extra-extra special!
Sport doesn’t just build character, but reveals it as well, and the Olympic Games is the biggest opportunity to reveal an athlete’s true character on the world’s biggest platform.
What makes this a great chance for Indians to come home with medals?
This time, in Rio 2016, we are now confident about performing on the biggest stage in the world. While many of our young athletes were extremely raw in 2012 and before that, and were overawed by the occasion, the knowledge that they deserve their spot and are among the best in the world is now a comfort and not a burden.
Many of our athletes are returning for their second Olympics, and having had a taste in 2012. It really does go a long way in knowing what to expect and how to approach what potentially is the biggest day in an athlete’s career. Bombayla Devi, Laxmirani Majhi and Deepika Kumari are among the best in the world of archery, and having stumbled in London, will want to prove their true potential in Brazil.
Undoubtedly, we have strength in numbers this time around, but I do think that the awareness behind how important the Olympics are has increased and I hope that this support helps our athletes find a spot on that coveted podium.
Being a small fish in a big pond can be frightening but it is also the greatest mental and physical test for any athlete
Why is India bad at sport? What’s stopped us from winning medals?
Having spent close to five years praying professional sport in Australia, when their cricket team dominated the world, I was exposed to something special that sadly India still lacks and is difficult to inject – sporting culture!
The day we wake up and go for a run, cycle to the office, start playing more sport, rather than watching it, and start to tell our kids that it’s okay to dedicate your life to being a top athlete as much as a top lawyer, doctor or engineer, that day is when the sporting culture of our country will even start to change.
We have seen the professionalisation of sport in India over the last five years and I certainly hope that it gives parents hope that children today can make their dreams come true with sport and don’t necessarily have to live their parents’ dreams.
Sadly I also do think that the bureaucracy and nepotism in sport, and specifically team sport in our country, is still shocking and having personally felt the pinch, I do hope that we start to see the right people running sport in our country to do what’s right for our sportsmen and women.
What else at Rio is a highlight for you?
The Olympic games tests the five Ss of sport – Speed, Stamina, Strength, Skill and Spirit…, and it’s that last one that makes the games so very special to me. There are always incredible stories of true sporting spirit that come out of the Olympic Games. Unsung heroes emerge and new stars grab their small opportunity and revel in the spotlight.
Personally, I’d love to watch Bolt do the double in three straight Olympic Games. Being at your peak for that long requires something deep-rooted, something incredibly special.
I’ve watched the Olympic Games since I was a kid, and to me this Rio Olympics is incredibly special as I will be getting behind the mic through India’s hockey games in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
India is on its way back to the glory days of six Olympic Golds back to back, and to be a part of this rise for India’s true number one sport is an amazing opportunity for me.
It’s special to sit in a room full of former Olympians every day and watch proceedings unfold and annoy them with my questions as I try and unlock the mind of an Olympic athlete. It truly is the mind of a champion.
Feature Image Credit: indianewengland.com