Sports

India At Hangzhou Asian Games: Anatomy Of A Sporting Revolution

The 655-strong Indian contingent crossed the hallowed three-figure medal mark with a full day to spare and ended the Hangzhou Asian Games in fourth position, as against eighth in Jakarta 2018

Advertisement

The silver-winning Indian women's 4x400m relay team in Hangzhou.
info_icon

That the India contingent for the 19th Asian Games would surpass the previous highest medal haul of 70 (achieved at the 2018 Jakarta Games) was almost pre-ordained. The 655-strong contingent was India’s biggest ever, and consisted of more genuine medal contenders than the last edition. The real question was whether India would cross the three-figure mark. And boy, was that question answered. (Medal Tally | Cricket World Cup)

What appeared to many as a lofty goal was achieved with a full day to spare. By the penultimate evening, India had at least 101 medals confirmed, and the tally swelled to 107 by the time the campaign ended. The prized collection includes 28 glittering gold medals, which placed the country firmly in fourth position in the overall standings. 

Advertisement

Only long-time powerhouses China, Japan and South Korea precede India. There is daylight between India and Uzbekistan, which finished fifth with 22 gold and 71 total medals. For context, India’s previous-best medal haul of 70 had resulted in the eighth spot on the standings, behind Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Chinese Taipei, apart from the top three.

So how did India turn the tide?

It was not a sudden surge or an unheralded effort. The answer lies more in the sum of the parts. The performances of Indian sportspersons have been building up to a critical mass over the last few years. Young, talented athletes have bubbled up across sports to take centrestage, and their track record in international events means they are not daunted by the size of the canvas, as used to be the case.           

Advertisement

Take archery, for instance. India bagged 13 medals — including seven gold — at world events in the compound section this year. 17-year-old Aditi Swami became the youngest-ever senior world champion and 21-year-old Ojas Deotale annexed the men’s crown. 

Such has been our athletes’ dominance in the discipline that head coach Sergio Pagni did not shy away from saying that India “will be the team to beat” at the Asian Games 2023. Surprise surprise, our compound archers swept all five gold medals on offer this time.

The men’s individual compound archery event saw an all-India final, where Ojas pipped his senior teammate Abhishek Verma for the gold medal. Ojas and Jyoti Surekha Vennam ended with three gold medals each as India went from two archery silver medals in the 2018 edition to nine overall in 2023, which includes two recurve archery medals. The podium finishes in recurve are especially creditable as it is an Olympic discipline, and the medals came after a 13-year wait.

Then there were the shooters. India is setting up a veritable assembly line of promising young shooters across disciplines who are delivering at the global stage. If one of them has an off day, another one steps up and shines. 

In the 25m pistol individual women’s final, for example, the 21-year-old Manu Bhaker was fancied to top the podium, but things didn’t go her way and she stood a lowly (by her standards) fifth. But the 18-year-old Esha Singh was unflappable as she came from behind to earn a silver medal.

The likes of Esha, Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar and Sift Kaur Samra led the way as the shooting contingent smashed records en route its unprecedented 22-medal haul at the Asiad. This was 13 medals more than Jakarta 2018, and eight more than the previous best achieved in Doha 2006.

Advertisement

There were heart-warming success stories in every other sport, and athletics shone the brightest with 29 medals as India scaled the hitherto unseen peak of 100 medals.

Not many (if at all any) of these medals will translate into podiums at the 2024 Paris Olympics, of course, but the signs are encouraging. Apart from the usual suspects who are expected to bring home Olympic glory, the all-conquering Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty badminton men’s doubles duo has done enough this year to be considered a serious Olympics medal contender. The 25-year-old golfer Aditi Ashok nearly won the Asiad gold and missed the Tokyo 2020 podium by a wafer-thin margin, but the law of averages is bound to catch up in Paris if she keeps the consistent run going. 

Advertisement

Whether or not India’s Hangzhou Asian Games campaign leads to bigger things remains to be seen, but in terms of the sheer joy it provided, it is destined to be etched indelibly in sports lovers’ memories. 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement