By winning 107 medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games, India for the first time entered the elite sporting club with a three-digit tally that has China, Japan and Korea as its regular members. Of course, with 200 golds, China is in a different league but India has made a start by clearing the psychological hurdle.
Helping to break the barrier were the hard-fought medals in disciplines where India is traditionally strong — shooting, hockey, wrestling and kabaddi. Shooting’s return to reckoning with a catch of 22 medals including 7 golds — the most by any participating nation — was a reassuring sign of regeneration. At the range, India went toe to toe with China, displaying great depth of talent. The discipline was outdone only by athletics, which finished with 29 medals. Javelin star Neeraj Chopra’s magical consistency offered the wind beneath their wings and provided a reminder that Olympics podiums were within reach.
Every medal, though, will be viewed from an Olympics lens. Compound archery lorded over the rest with complete domination, but is not yet an Olympics sport and hence sees medal-digging China ignore it. Rowing and boxing contributed five each, though, like wrestling, they have fallen back in nailing down golds and need to pull up their socks ahead of the Paris Games. The churn in wrestling for the greater good of women wrestlers’ safety was necessary, and the missing gold medal quality of Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia was a moment to reflect on why the system is making it so difficult for its own athletes. Boxer Nikhat Zareen’s missed gold was a wakeup call to not get complacent ahead of Paris. A gold missed — though silvers were secured — was also the tale in golf with Aditi Ashok and the men’s team in badminton. However, Satwiksairaj Ranki Reddy and Chirag Shetty’s historic first Asiad gold in men’s doubles along with HS Prannoy’s hard fought bronze saw India strike back a week later.
The most heart-wrenching solo silver belonged to Wushu’s Roshibina Devi whose tears asked important questions — about why Manipur continues to burn and why her fellow Wushu players from Arunachal were denied a chance to compete by China’s stapled visa policy. Cricket’s two golds were a farce, raising questions over the suitability of the sport in multi-sport Games when rains could bring it to a grinding halt. But perhaps the most memorable bronze will be Ayhika and Sutirtha Mukherjee beating China in quarters of table tennis doubles. Defending their strongholds in hockey and kabaddi was important, but the medals in table tennis and badminton in world class fields point to real progress — fearlessly winning medals against the might of Asian superpowers.