As a sports journalist, one of the sweetest moments for me in 2016 was sitting down with Olympics silver medallist PV Sindhu and the master Pullela Gopichand soon after their return to India from Rio.
I had interviewed them together before they had left for the Games, and here we were, 40 days later, but with everything changed. Sindhu had been one of the hopefuls before Rio Olympics, but now on August 24, 2016, she was the queen of Indian sports.
While Sindhu was as fresh as they come and raw as an interviewee, talking to Gopi, as always, was an enlightening experience. He spoke passionately about the emotions of professional sport.
And what he told me in their first interview in India post the medal has stayed with me ever since. It was a rare thing in my experience of speaking to many winners over the years.
|From left: Sakshi Malik, Pullela Gopichand and PV Sindhu.|
Speaking about the iconic picture [above] of Sindhu, himself and wrestling medal winner Sakshi Malik in Rio, Gopi said, "We had all been there in Rio together for a while and we were witnessing how hard each one was trying, but somehow that medal remained elusive. That's why, perhaps somewhere, in our hearts, it was helpful for us that Sakshi's medal came just before Sindhu's final. It eased some of the pressure that at least we have something in the bank now. It didn't remain a do-or-die situation because we knew we had one medal, and now, we could just go there and push for it."
It is a rare admission about how in an event like the Olympics, the contingent's performance affects every individual competitor. Seldom do athletes concede that someone else's performance helped theirs. Gopi went on to add, "I think if we had had an early medal, a few of our close misses would have not been so."
I was touched by his sense of community and responsibility towards the entire team. Usually, as many athletes have even confessed to me, sportspersons tend to be self obsessed and often miss the big picture.
As far as news coverage is concerned, the 2016 campaign was the biggest for India at the Olympics. After two path-breaking editions, everyone was expecting results to be better, and the media coverage reflected that.
But soon, gloom began to set in as one after the other candidates faltered, and an entire nation became desperate.
Towards the end of the Games, came Sakshi and Sindhu's twin medals, saving some face for the country. But, more importantly, their performances became an inspiration and a statement for the girl child in India.