It is easy to be caught in the whirlpool of euphoria, sparked by the success of the Indian weightlifting squad in the Commonwealth Games now on in Birmingham.
The power of collective joy is such that it leaves little room to step back and find balance when reviewing performances. But it is important to find the space and do some reality checks.
It is not a surprise that India topped the Weightlifting charts with a total of 10 medals, including three golds and three silvers.
Of the 38 nations and territories that sent weightlifters to the Commonwealth Games, 15 picked up at least a medal each with as many as nine getting at least one gold in the competition in Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre Hall 1.
Success of Two-Thirds of the Weightlifting Squad
For India, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games silver medallist and 2017 World Champion Mirabai Chanu (women's 49 kg class) justified the pre-event favouritism with minimum fuss, and youngsters Jeremy Lalrinnunga (men's 67 kg) and Achinta Sheuli (men's 73 kg) marked their Commonwealth Games debut with golden victories.
The silver medals came from Sanket Mahadev Sargar (men's 55 kg), Vikas Thakur (men's 96 kg), and Bindyarani Devi, who broke the national record in 'clean and jerk' in the women's 55 kg competition. Gururaja Poojary (men's 61 kg), Lovepreet Singh (men's 109 kg), Gurdeep Singh (men's +109 kg), and Harjinder Kaur (women's 71 kg) picked up a bronze each.
As their luck would have it, Ajay Singh, Popy Hazarika, Punam Yadav, Usha Kumara, and Purnima Pandey finished away from the podium, with Punam Yadav having to deal with the nightmare of all lifters – a no-mark leading to a 'Did Not Finish' against her name. And worse, she had to face immediate criticism that she was competing with an injury.
It would have been wonderful if the weightlifters improved on their personal bests and rewrote national records, just as Lovepreet Singh did in with three marks in 'snatch, clean, and jerk' and total lifts in the men's 109 kg class.
Once the decision to postpone the Asian Games 2022 was known, the target for each lifter should have been recalibrated to getting personal bests.
Then again, it could be argued that athletes had to be mindful of injuries and not push themselves hard when the primary goal is to ensure a podium finish, with the gold being in the crosshairs.
All said and done, while athletes and sports officials will have to do what they need to do, the response to their performance is in the hands of fans and critics.
To View From the Right Perspective
So, how should India respond or react to the success of two-thirds of the weightlifting squad which competed in the Commonwealth Games?
Conversely, should India look at the campaign from the perspective of the failure of a third of the squad to get a medal despite being in Birmingham a month ahead of the competition?
Of course, every medal in the Commonwealth Games must be celebrated, not just because it raises the National Flag aloft and lifts India up on the medal table but also because it is the result of months of planning and hard work to beat others who are also eying a place on the podium.
Indeed, the medal has still to be won with an efficient showing when under the spotlight.
It is also crucial to view all this from the right perspective. It can be argued that nobody stopped other Commonwealth nations from improving their skills; the truth is that, like in Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Badminton, and Table Tennis, the standard of Commonwealth weightlifting does not compare with Asian, let alone global, benchmarks.
It would help if everyone pauses and looks at the gap between the best Indians and the world leaders.
And we will perhaps come to terms with the fact that, at the moment, India has Mirabai Chanu and perhaps Jeremey Lalrinnunga as two world-class (or thereabouts in the latter's case) weightlifters.
Of course, in a sport ravaged by doping, success in the Commonwealth competition will draw more youngsters to take up the sport, train, and compete. The spread of Commonwealth Games medalists – from Manipur and Mizoram to Maharashtra, Punjab, and Karnataka – indicates that there is scope for excellence in the sport to become more widespread than it is now.
More than anything else, India must work towards developing the bench strength in each weight category to be able to keep the competition guessing. And that seems some distance away from happening despite the best effort of the Indian Weightlifting Federation and the Sports Authority of India.
There are as many as 22 weightlifters being supported under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme and nearly 100 identified as Khelo India Athletes and yet, the high-performance attitude appears hard to come by.
Perhaps, the situation demands a better coaching structure at all levels for India to take that step towards being a challenger in global competitions.
Things Being Done Right
To be sure, there are many things that are being done right. But it is an indication that there is room for improvement in the way India had to fall back on the Tokyo 2020 medallist to lead the challenge in the lesser competition that Commonwealth Games weightlifting really is.
Perhaps, the Commonwealth Games can be used to groom more youngsters for sterner battles, giving them the experience of village-living, and introducing them to the pressure that comes along with the chance to compete in multi-discipline events. But that demands an acceptance at all levels that it is okay if the number of medals secured is not as much.
It calls for a mindset change and a greater understanding of the sporting ecosystem by the larger community following and backing Indian weightlifting.
But with such emphasis on the medals tally and where India figures in it, that is easier said than done. Yes, India would be a great sporting nation if it acquires a better perspective rather than be caught in a euphoric whirlpool.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)