Olympic countdown: The rise of the first-timers

By B Shrikant
Mumbai, July 17 (IANS)
The underlining motto of the Olympic Games is participation, not winning. And that is the reason why many times those coming in last are cheered on by the crowds and become part of the Olympic folklore.
Not all of the expected 11,000 participants that would assemble at the Olympics can win medals, but they will compete to the best of their ability — exerting every sinew in their body to achieve personal goals like setting personal bests, eclipsing national records or winning a match.
So, while the focus of the Indian fans will on the big stars in shooting, boxing, badminton, weightlifting, wrestling, tennis, and athletics, there will be many who will be going about their job with zeal and enthusiasm trying their best, for they have already achieved their goal by making it to the Olympics.
Take the case of CA Bhavani Devi, who is the first fencer from India to qualify for the Olympics. Or, for that matter Fouaad Mirza, who will be the first Indian competing in equestrian since 2008, or Nethra Kumanan, the first Indian woman sailor to qualify for the Olympics. Or judoka Shushila Likmabam (women’s 48 kg), the silver medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
There will be others like sailors Vishnu Saravanan (radial class) and KC Ganapathy-Varun Thakkar (men’s 49er) who will be participating in their first Olympics. Joining them are fellow first-timers, rowers Arjun Lal Jat and Arvind Singh (men’s lightweight double sculls), and golfer Udayan Mane. Golfer Anirban Lahiri will be participating in his second Olympics.
Swimmers Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj too have charted history as they became the first two to get a direct entry into the Olympics by achieving the ‘A’ qualification mark. Prakash did it first in 200m butterfly at the Sette Coli meet in Rome, Italy, last month and Nataraj made it on the final day of the qualification by achieving the ‘A’ mark in 100m backstroke.
While all of them would be hoping to make the most of their chances, and at least get into medal contention, the focus will, however, be on the likes of Bhavani Devi, Mirza, and Nethra Kumanan.
Bhavani Devi is the first Indian fencer to win gold at a World Cup event — winning the individual sabre competition in Reykjavik, Iceland, in May 2017. She has won many medals in the Commonwealth Championships and Asian Championships and is currently ranked 42nd in sabre individual.
The 27-year-old daughter of a Chennai temple priest, Bhavani had nearly quit the sport in 2016 unable to bear the high cost of pursuing a sport that is not known much in India. A sponsorship by GoSports Foundation came as a godsend for her.
Just like Bhavani, Mirza, the first Indian to qualify for the Olympics since 2008 Beijing, will be making his Olympic debut.
Supported by Embassy International Riding School Bangalore, Mirza completed the requirement for qualification in May 2021 when he finished second in an event in Poland.
But the road to Tokyo was not easy for Mirza too — he had endured a lockdown in Germany, where he is stationed, several cancelled events, and an injury to his main horse, Seigneur Medicott, who was laid low by an injury for nearly two years, to make the cut.
At the Tokyo Games, Mirza will be participating in individual eventing. He has won two silver medals — one each in individual eventing and team competition at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. It was his consistent performance recently that earned him a spot on the basis of his rankings.
The journey was arduous for radial laser class sailor Nethra too. The 23-year-old came through the Asian Qualifying Event in Oman and her family had to endure a lot to support her passion for sailing. The first Indian woman sailor to win a medal in the World Cup event, Nethra has represented the country in two Asian Games and participated in the 2020 World Cup. Though nine sailors have represented India at the Olympics, she will be the first to earn a direct qualification to the mega event.
Having qualified for Tokyo, these sportspersons would be hoping to be the first Indians in their respective sports to win an Olympic medal. The task is tough but not unachievable.

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