Statistics will tell Tamil Nadu won 12 medals in the recent Asian Games – one of the best for an Indian State. But forget the numbers, because that tell only a part of the story. If you look at the individuals who bagged those medals, most of them will figure in doubles, quartets and team events. None of them got a gold medal and there were many who fell short of expectations. The fact is, Tamil Nadu, one of the leading states in sports, flattered to deceive in the Asian Games. It is not because it has contributed to the medals tally in a bigger way in the past, but it is a State that has invested so much in sports promotion.
The last gold that a Tamil Nadu athlete won was way back in 1978 when Gnanasekaran bagged the first place in 200 metres and then won the silver in 100 metres in the same Asiad. In the next edition in New Delhi in 1982, Charles Borromeo, an athlete of TN origin but who had worked in Jamshedpur almost throughout, won the 800 metres gold. Santhi Soundarajan came back with a silver medal in athletics in the 2006 Doha Games but her effort was mired in controversy as the gender issue cropped up. She was stripped off the medal.
In that respect, Dharun Ayyasamy’s silver in the 400-metre hurdles at Jakarta was a welcome addition to the Tamil Nadu’s thin medal kitty in the Asian Games. Dharun grew up without a proper track available at his native.
He had to travel 20 km every day to train on a 200-metre track in a school. That tells the story of athletics in Tamil Nadu, and also speaks volumes about the unearthed talent in its districts.
Noted trainer Loganathan’s efforts in Pudukkottai is a similar story. Loganathan has been working hard to train athletes in Pudukkottai for decades without even an acknowledgement from the government for his efforts. But in Lakshmanan and Surya, there were not one but two athletes from his stable who battled for a medal this time. Having had a grand double in 5,000m and 10,000m in the Asian Championship in Bhubaneswar last year, Lakshmanan was a favourite to strike it rich in the long distance run. He indeed came third, but he was stripped off the bronze for lane cutting.
It is not that TN does not produce good athletes. Prem Kumar was a promising talent in long jump having won a medal in the World Juniors, while Priyadarshini is another teenager who look promising with wins in Asian sub-junior events. However, the State’s prowess on the track and field remained in the junior category because the budding athletes faded when they reached the best part of their career for want of facilities. Some even chose other careers.
Squash is an exception because it existed outside the government realm. The Indian Squash Academy, governed by the national federation and based in Chennai, provided top facilities for not only the State players but for those from across the country in the last 17 years. It did not fetch the
State a gold, but Tamil Nadu could own the silver by the Indian women’s team, as three of them are from the state. Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal won a bronze each in singles, too.
The same goes for table tennis in which three Tamil Nadu players, G Sathiyan, Sharath Kamal and Anthony Amalraj, won the team bronze to create a first in Asiad history in the sport for India.
But these sporadic sparks are not enough to claim to be a sporting powerhouse. For that, the administrators need to learn some basic lessons from the world of sports: faith, perseverance and recognition.