Their conversation made interesting listening, even if I was only eavesdropping as my journalist friends and I walked back from the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium after a stirring evening when India won five athletics medals, including a gold, on Tuesday evening. The young man was telling his middle-aged friend that he would head to the Indira Gandhi Stadium to fight on the wrestling mat there.
“I am not good enough to run or jump or throw like the Indian stars did today,” he told his friend. “But I can surely learn to wrestle. I don’t want to get into the boxing right as I don’t want a bloody nose but I think I can handle wrestling. I saw it on TV and I think I will be able to do well.”
Those moments were enough to tell me how important it is to host international events like the Commonwealth Games. With Indian athletes and teams winning an unprecedented 32 gold and a total of 89 medals so far in a wide variety of sport, and with more medals guarantee in boxing, hockey, badminton, table tennis and, perhaps, shooting, it is a good wager that India will wear a feel-good glow for some time now.
Hopefully, some more youngsters across the country will be inspired to take to Olympic sport and see a great future in that. And that will be one of the biggest gains of the Commonwealth Games for Indian sport at large as the stirring display has come at home and thousands of fans have been able to bask in the reflected glory of India’s achievers.
For a nation whose track and field athletes had won but 10 medals in earlier Commonwealth Games, India picked up five medals, including the women’s 4 x 400m gold, in the span of two and a half hours on Tuesday evening. It was quite a sight to watch the ageless coach JS Saini and former India star Shiny Wilson celebrate the 12 athletics medals in Delhi 2010.
The thunderous roar of the home crowd did play a role in the women’s 1600m relay gold as also in lifting triple jumper Renjith Maheswary to a National record effort of 17.07m and the bronze medal. He would have ended up with the silver had not Cameroon’s Lucien Mamba Schlick come up with a 17.14m effort on his final attempt.
On a night when the Indian men’s hockey team staged a stirring fightback to edge England out via the tiebreaker in the semifinal, there is no doubt that Indian athletes have drawn on the massive support from the home crowd and raised the bar for themselves and their team-mates – and at once served as an inspiration for the masses.