The jangling metals collected in track and field meetings in Napoli in Italy, Almaty in Kazakhstan, Poznan and Kutno in Poland, Bikshek in Kyrgyzstan and Tabor in Czech Republic may sound like as rich a booty as in the Asian Games in Jakarta (19 medals, including seven gold) and the Asian Championships in Doha (17 medals including three gold, one of which is in doubt now).
Dutee Chand became the first Indian track star to win gold in the World University Games by clocking 11.32 seconds in the 100m in Napoli. Hima Das has been on a roll, winning four successive 200m gold medals in track meetings in Europe. And the hoi polloi lost no time in being tickled by such news and started building dreams of Olympic Games medals.
Hey! Wait a minute. Is Indian athletics on such a high really? Are the Dutees and the Himas ready to win the first track and field medal in Olympic Games in independent India's history in Tokyo next year? Indeed, if you strained your ears (or if you thought Twitter trends are good enough), you may well believe that India is poised to break the duck.
Come to think of it, it is hard to lay the blame at the threshold of the fans or some political leaders and celebrities at a time when former Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has himself sparked the belief that India could land 100 Olympic medals in 2032.
Of course, Dutee's 100m gold in the Universiade is special. But it must be not be forgotten that the sprinter competed in the University Games with the sole intention of qualifying for the World Championships in Doha this year and the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. Her winning time was way short of the qualifying standards, 11.24 seconds and 11.15 seconds respectively.
As for Hima, she has run well — clocking 23.65 seconds and 23.97 in Poland, 23.43 and 23.25 seconds in the Czech Republic to win four successive events. Her best time in four races secures her 124th place in the 2019 world ranking. Read that again — 124th. She is yet to run a 400m race since pulling out of the Asian Championships in Doha with an injured back.
The athletes are doing what they are expected to: train hard and use each competition to work towards the larger goal of doing well on the global stage. Of course, they need all the encouragement on that journey but to call them 'unstoppable' and eulogise their performances against none-too-strong opposition is to miss the woods for the trees.
To be fair, the Athletics Federation of India has remained balanced in sharing news of athletes competing overseas. It is not emboldened to educate the fans and the political class about the quality of competition.
As far as it is concerned, it will welcome any positive publicity, though when drawing up a schedule for its stars it may not have envisaged the rush of blood elsewhere.
That brings us to the question: Should we, as a nation, shed our sense of perspective?
Is it very difficult to pause for just a moment and reflect on whether an Indian athlete is actually striding the world scene as a colossus? Surely, it should be possible to not be trigger happy and spend a bit of time looking at the relative position of each such performance before leading their own followers to believe that something special has happened.
Of course, on the one hand, it is good that the performance of some athletes has captured the imagination of political leadership and celebrities from the entertainment world. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is a reflection of the growing importance of sport in the country and an indication its rise in social pecking order.
Yet, on the other hand, such adulation is fraught with much risk, especially of raising expectations of the people of the country. Worse, such unbridled praise could lead to the athletes resting on their oars — or, should we say, resting on their laurels. It is important that both these and other risks are best avoided so that Indian sport remains on the growth route.
Yet, pay the trend (not just on social media) a bit more than cursory attention, you will soon figure out that it is fashionable to hitch oneself to Dutee and Hima bandwagons. How else can anyone interpret the intense focus on such athletes at the expense of several others who have done just as well, if not better?
Does it mean anything to the political sorts or the celebrities that Muhammad Anas Yahiya staged a stunning return to form with a national record time of 45.21 seconds to lodge himself at the 31st place on the world charts for this year or triple jumper Mohamed Salahuddin is 53rd or long jumper M Sreesankar's is 58th on the world ranking list?
It is very important not to create a divide between athletes from different disciplines. Political leaders, especially, must be careful about not ignoring some athletes and making them feel as if they are children of a lesser God. The urge to celebrate one athlete's success — even if that is in the form of multiple gold medals won against mediocre competition — can be counter-productive.
Of course, India must celebrate its sporting aces but its leaders, especially from the political and entertainment worlds, must acquire a better perspective rather than just compete to mark a sporting feat. They will do well to remember to think before they tweet and to read before they think, especially when it comes to track and field sport.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2019 10:07:55 IST