Despite its great importance, cricket never gave India — the nation — any significant international triumph until well after independence. It was in Indian hockey and in the Olympic Games that the nationalist aspirations of colonial India found full expression,” wrote Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta in India and the Olympics.
India first participated as a team in the Olympics in 1920 (the first colonised Asian nation to take part in the Games, as the authors point out), set up the Indian Olympic Association by 1927 and won its first gold, in hockey, the very next year.
Four years from now, when the Olympics begin in Tokyo in 2020, it will mark a century since India first sent a team to the Games and should be a time to celebrate a centenary of Olympic participation. But in the shadow of the dismal show at Rio where the largest ever contingent of 118 athletes managed to pick up just two medals, the idea of celebration sounds farfetched, even farcical.
The athletes are now back home, medal winners like Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu got a rapturous reception from a grateful nation, and the dust of one more Olympic Games is settling. With the dream of India bettering its London tally of six medals getting a rude awakening, the question now remains whether the country can not just improve its Rio tally, but if it can acquit itself creditably at Tokyo, and what it must do to get there.