GAME PLAN: Numbers deceive in Race for Rio

Jaideep Ghosh

FILE | Rio de Janeiro: The Rio 2016 Olympics mascots parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Photo: AP/PTI

FILE | Rio de Janeiro: The Rio 2016 Olympics mascots parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016.
Photo: AP/PTI

A very interesting headline caught our attention recently. India had crossed the century mark in terms of the number of athletes who have qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics!

Quite an achievement that. As the day progressed, the number looked like an optimistic stock market graph as the number rose to 120.

I’m not quite sure if we are the only nation that celebrates how many qualified for an event, rather than speak of how many medals they’ll get.

Then, of course, there is the objectivity that goes through the roof. OK, so we have 120 athletes who have qualified. Great. Just as an aside though, I understand the United States have 120 athletes too – only for track and field.

And it’s anyone’s guess how many medals they will get back.

Unfortunately, it’s a little different in India. All the federations are out to list out how many athletes can be qualified for the Games. The more the merrier, since, as a multiplier, a proportionate (or disproportionate) number of coaches, doctors, physios and general hangers-on can also be added to the list.

It is invariably about adding another accreditation card to the burgeoning list. If a medal comes through, great. Otherwise, well, we tried our best.

Or did we?

Just the other morning, there was news of the Indian Grand Prix, organised by the Athletics Federation of India saw many athletes making the grade for the Rio Games.

File photo of Indian Athlete Renjith Maheshwary. Photo: PTI

File photo of Indian Athlete Renjith Maheshwary.
Photo: PTI

Among them was 30-year-old Renjith Maheswary, India’s poster boy in the triple jump.

Maheswary hit 17.30 metres at the event in Bengaluru, a national record to beat the previous mark of 17.17.

Great achievement, since this makes him the third best jumper worldwide in the year. This should surely result in a medal in Rio?

Not necessarily.

My recollection may be a little hazy, but when Maheswary went to London four years ego for his second Olympics (after Beijing), he did not register even one legal jump when it mattered. Not one.

It cannot be that Maheswary isn’t a decent jumper – he was Asian champion, after all. But if these athletes, the crème de la crème of Indian talent, cannot even register a legal jump, why is the Government spending so much on their training and other stuff, not to mention huge bills for exposure and training trips abroad, and then the actual event?

The London Games were different. With the Commonwealth Games scandals just past, there was a lot of focus on Indian Olympic sports – in terms of money spent, potential and promised performances and other stuff. So when India returned with more medals than in any other Games, it was seen as a launch pad for better things in future.

But in spite of so much attention, Maheswary triple waltzed through a series of no-jumps, and no one asked why. Even once.

It may well be stating the obvious, but in India, qualifying for the Games is considered a victory. The rest is just the icing.

So what do we have? We have Maheswary, of course. We also have a barrage of shooters who qualify from all kinds of tournaments around the world and are never to be seen again for most part.

We have Narsingh Yadav, who is finally going, but heaven knows what state he will be in Rio, given that he spent the best part of the last three months fighting off Sushil Kumar’s challenge, far, far away from the mat.

FILE | Image showing Tennis Players Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes. (PTI)

FILE | Image showing Tennis Players Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes.
(PTI)

Then we have the sordid saga of Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes. The deadly duo is, well, not quite a duo, since they don’t talk to one another.

So how are going to fare in Rio? Errr…, at a wild guess, badly.

Sardar Singh was dropped as skipper of the hockey team, barely three weeks ahead of the Games and coach Roelant Oltmans says giving the mantle to P.R. Sreejesh will leave Sardar unburdened and it may improve his performance.

Did anyone ask Sardar? And was this the best time to do this? Couldn’t this have been done a few months earlier?

The side has been showing promise. Not least in the Champions Trophy. So Sardar was good enough to skipper there, but isn’t now?

This is another change that may not work well. But hey, we qualified. That is more important.

Let’s keep the maths simple, shall we? If ten per cent of these 120 athletes get medals, that will double India’s tally from London. So essentially, a 100% hike in the haul!

You see that happening? Because I don’t. Call me a pessimist or a cynic, but I’d like to think I’m a realist.

And the reality isn’t pretty.