Yes, we can: India’s unsung sports heroes

first_imgYes, we can: India’s unsung sports heroesChamps who cleared the path for othersadvertisement Next Rohit Brijnath August 11, 2019UPDATED: August 11, 2019 12:34 IST Abhinav Bindra. (PTI Photo)Can.A three-letter word. Has no great personality. Slang for toilet. Painted by Andy Warhol. Worth five points in Scrabble.Then you look again.’Can’ has muscle. It means to have the ability, the skill, the belief. It’s knowing ‘how to’. It’s having the ‘power to’.It’s worth more points than you can estimate in competition.’Can’ is what Abhinav Bindra, a straight-shooting species with a sense of irony, helps India with. He’s not the first one to dismantle barriers, because even in the 1920s and the 1930s, an army officer called Dhyan Chand and his buddies Leslie Hammond, Feroze Khan and Jaipal Singh Munda were telling the world that India could do some stickball magic.Athletes reflect the society they live in, and in those years, they too were daunted. They’d look at everyone else’s fancy equipment, gyms, facilities, coaches, trainers and tracksuits while eating a scientifically approved diet of McDonald’s burgers because it was the cheapest place to eat, and they would shrink inside. Confidence all curled up.How do you beat them if you don’t belong? If sport is played in the mind, then that’s also where suspicion of one’s own talent rests. Indians anyway weren’t conditioned then to voice their ambitions.No one wanted to look too big for the boots they didn’t even have. Well, not the nice ones their friends sometimes got from abroad.On the plane to England in 1996 for his first Test tour, Rahul Dravid was all freshly shaved enthusiasm, thinking about whether a series could be won, till a senior, carrying the wisdom of the practical, said: ‘Let’s try and win one Test’.advertisementRemember the Titans (2000) is a movie about the semi-miraculous, this was the real modest world of the Indian athlete. It’s not that Asian athletes couldn’t win medals at the Commonwealth Games, or score centuries at Lord’s, but they were understandably inhibited at crucial times.’In sport,’ explained Dravid, ‘the margins are so small that any inferiority is magnified under pressure. And so if things got tough, then we didn’t have enough history behind us to show we could do this.’…Awe needs a few visits to rub off. First time you go to Lord’s or Wimbledon, you can be stilled by history.All those boards, those statues, those names, that legend.Second time, you might recognise that even at Lord’s, the wickets are only 22 yards apart and the net at Wimbledon is the same height as the one in your club in Chennai. But once, says Gopichand, athletes hardly travelled, maybe two tournaments a year abroad, maybe four, and it was not enough to find the necessary comfort, to figure out the poster on your wall was no caped hero but just another nervous human.As he put it: ‘People idolised them so much, they couldn’t beat them.’ Why weren’t you intimidated, I asked Gopichand, the All England champion in 2001, and he replied: ‘I blindly believed I was going to win. I just didn’t like losing, it didn’t matter who it was. It was personal for me on the court.’These people are the path-clearers, the roadfinders, the courage-givers, the confidence-restorers. This is also who Bindra is. Bindra doesn’t gaze at his 2008 Olympic gold medal, and he’s not even quite sure where it is most of the time.But the medal is really for India to look at, a representation of the journey he’s lived and endured for years. A medallion of proof. An Indian can.GO! INDIA’S SPORTING TRANSFORMATION EditorsNandan Kamath, Aparna Ravichandran, Penguin India; Rs 299Get real-time alerts and all the news on your phone with the all-new India Today app. Download from Post your comment Do You Like This Story? Awesome! Now share the story Too bad. Tell us what you didn’t like in the comments Posted byChanchal Chauhanlast_img read more