Watching world no. 1 Yihang Wang tame Saina Nehwal easily in the semi-final, 21-13, 21-13 on Friday morning, I remembered my conversation with a chinese journalist in the Main press Centre a few days ago.
“In diving, table tennis, badminton, we should make a clean sweep,” he had said. The bronze medal for the women’s badminton is still to be decided and it is not beyond world no. 5 Saina to beat Li Xuerie, her opponent in the play-off and ranked no. 4 in the world. But you get the point.
China’s dominating in certain events has not become so pronounced and for so long that it has become a cliché in sports. Only very rarely does a player from another country get to the number 1 spot— or top medals— in these disciplines.
The secret of this success, according to the Chinese journalist – is in spotting and developing excellence from a massive base of players. The Chinese too have a pyramidical system for sports, but they have spread the dragnet for capturing talent further and wider than in any other country.
They use the hub and spoke model through which talent is spotted in the remotest districts, then fed through a pipeline into sports academies in major cities, and from there on to a pool of elite athletes who are trained to excel at major international events.
I suppose in some way or the other all countries follow such processes, except that the Chinese have done this with a vigour and diligence. Some argue that this is done dictatorially— that has seen them assume dominant position in sports over the past decade.
Beginning with ‘ping-pong’ and badminton in the 1980s when they emerged from self-imposed exile from participating in international sports events, the Chinese have expanded their expertise to include diving, swimming and gymnastics.
Though track and field and the swimming pool is still ruled by the Americans, it seems a cinch that by the 2020 Olympics, the Chinese would be nudging them for top honours in these disciplines too.
“The strategy is to produce champions in big numbers,” says the Chinese journalist. “At any given point in time, there will be three or four players in TT, badminton, diving etc who must be capable of winning a gold medal.”
The strategy may seem simple. But it is the implantation that is the crux. It requires commitment, discipline and ambition – not just of athletes, but the entire country. This is something where India falls terribly short.
But that story for another day.
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India’s hopes of making it to the semif-finals in hockey were dashed by Germany in emphatic fashion.
Not that these hopes had much basis in reality: after losing to Netherlands and even New Zealand, chances of finishing in the top six too seemed remote. But after the rout by Germany, India are now in danger of finishing 10 or below.
This would be a major blow to coach Michael Nobbs, who has been talking of reviving Indian hockey within a reasonable time frame. Nobbs did well in ensuring that India qualified for the Olympics, but a very low position here would mean that it’s virtually back to square one.
The coach himself has looked and talked somber. “I don’t know if I am getting through to the players about tactics and whatever else,” he mused after the defeat against New Zealand.
That sounds foreboding.