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Greatness on Repeat: PV Sindhu Beats He Bingjiao to Win Bronze at Tokyo Olympics

PV Sindhu’s bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, to add to the silver she won in Rio five years back, has elevated her to the high pedestal of Indian sport reserved for its greatest Olympians. The medal is testament to her focus, determination and diligence as well as the confidence to push aside anything and everything that had the potential to bog her down, and doing it her own way.
PV Sindhu wins bronze at Tokyo Olympics

PV Sindhu celebrates her victory over He Bingjiao of China in the women’s singles badminton bronze medal playoff at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday (Pic: NDTV, Twitter).

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is on overdrive ever since the ongoing Olympics kicked off. Every time an Indian won a medal or came anywhere near it in Tokyo, SAI was quick to issue a “profile” of the athlete. Packed with relevant information, it, in the end, also carries details of money spent by the government in developing the athlete.

The figures are indeed impressive, though it might bring discomfort to people who still hesitate while making public the expenses incurred on the successes of their own children, especially in the area of education. But then, this is not the time to deliberate on how overindulgence on public relation exercise has of late been the sole motto.

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One such profile was released Saturday when PV Sindhu was preparing for her semifinal battle against Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-ying, which she ultimately lost. It said the government has spent close to Rs. 4 crore of taxpayers’ money on the reigning world champion’s road to Tokyo. 

To quote the exact break-up, Rs. 51,28,030/- have been spent on Sindhu through Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS); the expenses incurred on her through Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC) is far bigger an amount. It’s Rs. 3,46,51,150/-. 

The sports ministry and SAI have done creditably. No second saying on that. But can money buy everything, especially in the sporting arena? Sports is like mutual funds – the returns could be abysmally low or overwhelmingly high at times. PV Sindhu’s 2021 Olympic journey has ended with the second option; she has given back the nation much more than what she received.

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It is not about winning her second Olympic medal or not. The 26-year-old has proved one thing beyond doubt – she is a big tournament player because she is capable of taking her game to the next level on the grand stage. That’s the unmistakable sign of a true great player, only a few in the Indian sporting arena, past or present, can match Sindhu in this area. 

In the history of India’s individual efforts at the Olympics, only shooter Abhinav Bindra and wrestler Sushil Kumar could display similar class and quality. Every time they reached the highest stage, they returned home with their heads high. Sushil won back-to-back medals in 2008 and 2012 and a World championship gold in between.  Bindra, apart from winning the gold in Beijing 2008, holds the record of reaching the final three times in the Olympics.   

Hopes were high on MC Mary Kom joining the elite club. Instead, she bowed out in confusion and controversy. An unfortunate end to the Olympic campaign for one of the world’s most decorated women boxers.

Sindhu is the latest addition to the list in a spectacular way. On Sunday, she defeated her Chinese rival He Bingjiao 21-13, 21-15 to pick up her second medal in the Olympics – this time a bronze that confirmed her place in India’s hall of fame. It is a fascinating achievement after all. In India, athletes often tend to fade after tasting success in the Olympics, shooter Vijay Kumar and Sakshi Malik are prime examples. Sindhu proved nothing could distract her; money, fame or awards were not enough to take her mind off what she loves to do most – playing badminton. Sindhu had a point to prove to a larger audience and she did it in fantastic style. Definitely. 

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Sindhu’s biggest qualities do not lie in her extraordinary defence or piercing front court attacks, which was in full view in Tokyo. What made her special was her ability to adapt to new situations and still remain as brilliant a player as she was four years ago. Sindhu’s world was completely different when she stunned the world by reaching the Olympic final in 2016. Even the casual onlookers know Sindhu’s life has undergone a sea change since then – from a wide eyed Hyderabad girl, over dependent on her mentor and coach, Sindhu has proved she is perfectly capable of handling her own issues. More importantly, she is determined to lead her life the way she wants to.

Typical of Indian psychology, Sindhu was dismissed as someone who has lost her way when she suddenly quit the national camp in October last year and left for London in a huff. While she cited better training facilities as the reason behind her shifting base, many in the badminton circuit spoke in hushed tone over her “disagreements” with parents on some issues. Sindhu’s father made things further difficult when he was quoted by a news agency that she was having serious differences with her longtime coach Pullela Gopichand. The general opinion was that the downslide of Sindhu’s career has already begun.

Nothing could affect the Rio silver medallist’s on-court performance. For a long time, it was believed Indian badminton was all about Gopichand; from Saina Nehwal to PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth to Sai Praneeth, everyone’s existence largely depends on the guidance of India’s former All-England champion. When Saina rushed to Bangalore to be trained under Vimal Kumar only to return to Gopi’s academy again, the belief was further strengthened.

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No denying of credit to Gopichand for producing such a huge number of top class shuttlers almost single handedly, but it was yet another myth that was shattered by Sindhu – at least it appeared to be. The credentials of Korean coach Park Tae-sang was under scanner from the day he took over independent charge of the country’s most valuable player, but Sindhu made it look as good as she was in Rio. Her elevation to the semifinal was smooth and convincing. In the first three matches, she never lost a game against Cheung Ngan Yi, Mia Blichfeldt and Akane Yamaguchi before meeting her nemesis Tai Tzu-ying in the semifinals. Experts were convinced that Sindhu’s game had improved in many areas – that includes her defence, her returns, net play and even the energy to indulge faultlessly in long rallies.

It was a pity that Sindhu let the semifinal slip away from her grip after having the upper hand initially. But then, the Chinese Taipei girl is a gem of a player, she has been dominating the circuit in the most fascinating manner. To give her away the first game was like allowing the tiger to walk out of the cage. Sindhu realized it more than anyone else. 

“I should have taken the first game, that’s what I felt. It wasn’t that easy, but it was crucial. If I had won the first game, it would have been different,” she said.

Indian women have been doing better than their male counterparts in the Olympics. It’s on record since the 2016 Rio Games – Mirabai Chanu and Lovlina Borgohain have only upgraded the list. Two other Indians, Manika Batra and PV Sindhu, have added a new dimension to the story. They are part of the new generation Indian sporting women, who can’t be stifled or dictated at every step of their lives, they don’t fit into the traditional template. They are smart, they know what they are doing and they are not afraid to take the risk to live on their own terms. This is a gigantic success story that no amount of money can buy through ACTC or TOPS.

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