As children, we’ve all heard the tale of Arjun’s son Abhimanyu – from the Mahabharata.
The most fascinating part of the story was the part which described how Abhimanyu’s education began while he was still in Subhadra’s womb. He overhead Arjuna telling Subhadra the secrets of how to enter, exit, and destroy various battle formations. Of these, it is of note, that he only heard how to enter (but not exit or destroy) the secret of the Chakravyuh formation as Subhadra fell asleep and thus Arjuna didn’t complete his explanation.
But still it was an early beginning. And we are noticing at the London 2012 Olympics that an early beginning helps. Last night, Lithuanian teenager, just 15 years old, Ruta Meilutyte stole the pool headlines as she won her country’s first Olympic swimming gold in the women’s 100 metres breaststroke.
She wasn’t the only teenager making waves in the pool. Missy Franklin, of the US, is just 17 and she won the 100-meter backstroke. China’s Ye Shinwen is just 16 and she is already setting the pool on fire and has broken a world record already. Sun Yang, 19, became the first Chinese male swimmer to earn gold as he won the 400m freestyle with an Olympic record.
Some might say, that it is in just the swimming events. But have a look at the weightlifting events. China’s Wang Mingjuan extended a 10-year unbeaten international record to win gold in the first women’s weightlifting event of the London Summer Olympics, giving the Chinese team a perfect start at the Games.
Mingjuan is 26 now. Her unbeaten run started when she was 16. Incredible isn’t it?
Tom Daley, one of Britain’s biggest Olympic stars, was the 2009 FINA World Champion in the individual diving event at the age of 15.
The runners begin early too. Usain Bolt won a 200 m gold medal at the 2002 World Junior Championships, making him the competition’s youngest-ever gold medalist at the time. He also competed in the 2004 Olympics at the age of 18.
The list really is endless. The whole point of this argument is simple. You just have to start early. And Indians don’t do that often enough.
India’s best bets at the Olympics are Saina Nehwal, Deepika Kumari, Sania Mirza-Leander Paes, Mary Kom, Vijender Singh, Abhinav Bindra – and the one common thread that runs through all of them is that they all started young.
- By the time, Saina was 13, she was beating players who were 23-24.
- Deepika Kumari won the 11th Youth World archery Championship held in Ogden, USA in 2009, at an age of 15 years. She also won a gold medal in the same competition in the women’s team recurve event along with Dola Banerjee and Bombayala Devi.
- Sania Mirza made her debut in April 2001 on the ITF Circuit as a 15-year-old.
- Mary Kom, by the age of 18, had won a silver in her first AIBA World Women’s Boxing Championship in Scranton, USA.
- Vijender Singh, 27, has already competed in three Olympics.
- Leander Paes turned professional in 1991 – at the age of 18. Before that he won the Junior US Open and the Junior Wimbledon title.
- At 15, Abhinav Bindra became the youngest participant in the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
At 15, Meilutyte is winning gold medals while most Indians are just thinking about passing 10th standard – including those who are talented in sports and are competing at the national level. And by the time, we become any good we are 25-plus giving us a very short window in which we have to succeed.
But to succeed at the highest level, to match China or the US or any other major medal-winning country – the mindset needs to change. We complain about the infrastructure and the lack of it but how many parents are prepared to back their child’s athletic talent? India’s failure to win a ton of medals is as much the fault of the parents as it is of the athletes.
All those stories of Indians maturing late is nonsense. The list of athletes above have shown us that. And if you look at cricket – the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have also shown the world what ‘young’ Indians can do. So let’s not go down this rule.
On paper, India may have the youngest population of the world’s biggest countries but does that reflect in the way we play sport? It does in cricket and hence, we do decently at it. But with other sports, most of the time – Indians are trying to find the right balance between success and failure. The question on the minds of most of the athletes is this: What will I do if I fail?
So because you want something to fall back on, you put your dreams on hold. You deviate and that deviation often means that you never quite get back onto the right path. A few persist and they do well but they will always remain the exception and not the rule.
For India to win regularly at the Olympics, we need to go back into time and learn a few lessons from Abhimanyu. The others are doing it, so why can’t we?