India’s taekwondo’s Asian Games debutant Kashish Malik saw Lee Ah-Reum trail Thailand’s Vipawan Siripornpermsak in the semi-finals on Tuesday. But the Delhi teenager unhesitatingly predicted that the 26-year-old Korean 2017 World Champion would ride on her experience to emerge on top in that bout.
“At this level, competitive experience matters a lot,” she said, matter-of-factly. Of course, she was ruing her own inexperience at this level but what she said made sense. More so, since the Korean turned the tables with barely seconds left on the clock and earned herself a place in the title round. True enough, it was the experience of playing on the big stage that helped her.
Yet, from an Indian perspective, with young shooters like Saurabh Chaudhary and Lakshay Sheoran winning gold and silver respectively, the temptation would be to believe that it would make sense for all sports to replicate the idea of investing in the young. Of course, with backstroke swimmer Srihari Nataraj delivering two national records, such an idea would only gain ground.
To add to that argument, it looked as if the senior statesmen in Indian sport, Olympic medallists Leander Paes and Sushil Kumar, would be subject to some serious questions. By pulling out of the Asian Games at the last moment, tennis star Paes was sending the wrong signals to the sporting community, while Sushil’s first-round defeat pointed to his slowing reflexes.
However, on Tuesday, four vastly experienced athletes dragged the focus back to the value of experience. Rifle shooter Sanjeev Rajput, swimmer Virdhawal Khade — who made his Asian Games debut back in 2006 — and archer Deepika Kumari as well and gymnast Dipa Karmakar showcased their hunger and determination.
To be sure, only Sanjeev Rajput was among the medals from this quartet. And Virdhawal Khade missed one by a proverbial coat of paint in the 50m freestyle final. Deepika Kumari and Dipa Karmakar were far from their best but they stayed competitive, eager to do something special despite the enormous pressure they face from connoisseurs and critics alike.
For years, Sanjeev Rajput has been in the shadows of Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang. On Tuesday, he broke free and forced the spotlight to be trained on him by winning the 50m rifle 3-positions silver medal. As someone who was known to shoot at his best when prone or kneeling rather than when standing, he got a monkey off his back with consistent shooting in the final.
At 24 and 25 years of age respectively, Dipa Karmakar and Deepika Kumari are competing in their third Asian Games each. Both have had their share of sceptics, the former for perhaps being gingerly upon her return to international competition after recovering from a knee surgery, and the latter for not delivering to potential in the big events.
On Tuesday, all that did not matter to them as they trained their thoughts on doing their best. Deepika Kumari, for instance, overcame the horror of scoring 1 with an arrow by keeping her mind glued in the present. “There is nothing one can do about an arrow that has been released,” she said. “But one can focus on breathing and keep the mind in the present.”
She knows that as the leader of the women’s recurve archery team, she will have to raise the bar in the three events she is part of — team, individual and mixed team with Atanu Das. “We know the conditions and will be ready to do our best when we return to the Archery Field,” she promised, aware that it would take a Herculean effort for her to get another Asian Games medal.
Dipa Karmakar knew that her errors would cost her a place in the vault final since she finished behind her teammates Pranati Nayak and Aruna Budda Reddy, but she did not let that affect her countenance as she sought to do her best in the other apparatus. She was rewarded for her ability to overcome such a big setback with a place in the beam final.
Virdhawal Khade has done a lot in the nine years between his setting the national 50m freestyle swimming record in the Asian Age Group Championships in Tokyo and his rewriting it at the Aquatics Centre in Jakarta on Tuesday. In fact, he even spent some years away from the pool, serving rural folk in Maharashtra as a Deputy Collector, and recovered from an injury.
He returned to competitive swimming a year ago and has caught everyone by surprise with a string of times that would make younger sprinters proud. Then again, 50m freestyle is all about explosive power and Virdhawal Khade packed much of it both in the heats when he lowered his own national mark and in the final.
“Setting a national record is alright but what use is it if I do not win a medal,” he asked after missing the opportunity of becoming the first Indian swimmer with multiple individual medals in Asian Games. That statement is a strong advertisement for the kind of attitude that experienced hands wear when competing at this level.
Deep down, he is aware that the focus has been on encouraging the younger swimmers to sharpen their skills. He does not grudge them that but points out that with a bit more support, even the senior swimmers would be able to bring home the medals from the Asian Games. In his own way, he was making a case out for the thinktank in Target Olympic Podium scheme to support him.
He aspires to be in an Olympic Games final in two years’ time. It is such dreams, larger goals, backed by the spirit of competition which has kept the senior athletes going. Of course, they are well aware that they have to keep working hard to keep ahead of younger competitors snapping at their heels.
Indeed, it is not as if any of these experienced athletes has come to the Asian Games because the selectors have done him or her a favour by picking them. Each of them remains the best in their business, ready for challengers to come by and dislodge them from the pedestal as India’s best. They have worked hard to be here. And they have stayed hungry, keeping the fire burning.
Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 11:17 AM