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From humble beginnings to sporting powerhouse: India’s Asian Games evolution

October 9, 2023 5:37 PM IST

Asian Games | Indian athletes | India Asian Games Medal Tally | India Asian Games History

India’s participation in the Asian Games has been a tale of perseverance, growth, and determination. From modest beginnings in 1951 to the spectacular showing at the 2023 Asian Games, the journey of Indian athletes has been marked by challenges and triumphs.

1951-1986, Early Struggles: India’s inaugural appearance at the Asian Games in 1951 yielded a total of 51 medals, including 15 gold, 16 silver, and 20 bronze. This early success was a testament to the dedication and raw talent of Indian athletes. However, in subsequent years, India faced significant challenges. Limited sports infrastructure and insufficient funding hindered athlete preparation and competitiveness. Intense competition from nations like Japan, China, and South Korea, coupled with a traditional focus on sports like field hockey and cricket, disadvantaged other disciplines. Administrative issues, including corruption and mismanagement, further hampered India’s sports growth. Despite these obstacles, Indian athletes persevered at the Asian Games.

1990s-2000s, The Rise of New Talents: As the years passed, India began to witness a gradual improvement in its performance at the Asian Games. The 1990s and early 2000s saw the emergence of new talents in various sports, including shooting, wrestling, badminton, and athletics. India’s commitment to sports development started to yield better results.

One notable achievement during this period was the success of Indian shooters and track and field athletes, whose efforts contributed significantly to India’s medal tally.

2010-2023, A New Era: The decade starting from 2010 marked a significant turning point for Indian sports. The country witnessed a surge in medal-winning performances, culminating in a historic achievement at the 2023 Asian Games.

The Indian Olympic Association and Sports Ministry launched ‘Ab ki baar sau paar’ for the 2023 Asian Games amid skepticism. Expectations were low due to the previous best of 70 medals in 2018. But India exceeded expectations with 107 medals, including 28 gold, 38 silver, and 41 bronze. The women’s kabaddi team clinched the 100th medal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated this historic achievement, hailing it as India’s best performance in 60 years.

Historic moments at the 2023 Asian Games:

-The remote village of Shirog, nestled within the Bandli panchayat of Shillai, erupted in sheer jubilation when the Indian kabaddi team, under the leadership of local talent Ritu Negi, clinched the coveted gold medal at the 19th Asian Games held in Houngzhau, China. The exuberant villagers celebrated this remarkable triumph by distributing traditional sweets, laddus, and lighting up the night sky with joyous bursts of fireworks. The air resonated with resounding slogans of support for their homegrown heroes, including Ritu Negi, Pushpa Rana, and Sushma, all of whom played pivotal roles in securing the team’s victory.

-Baboo, the son of a daily wage laborer, achieved an extraordinary feat by bagging a bronze medal in the mixed team 35km race walk event at the Asian Games, partnering with Manju Rani. Baboo’s path to glory was a testament to his indomitable spirit, as he worked tirelessly as a waiter to self-finance his athletics training. During the challenging times of the COVID-19 shutdown, he even joined his father in road construction under the MGNREGA scheme to support his financially strained family.

-In a stunning upset that took the sporting world by storm, the dynamic duo of Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee defied the odds by defeating China’s reigning world champions, Chen Meng and Wang Yidi, in an exhilarating table tennis women’s doubles match. This victory marked a watershed moment as the Mukherjee sisters secured India’s first-ever medal in women’s doubles, a well-deserved bronze that etched their names in the annals of Indian sports history.

-Parul Chaudhary’s incredible sprint for the 5,000 meters gold in Hangzhou was the most defining moment for India’s outstanding performance at the 2023 Asian Games. In the final stretch, with just 25 meters to go, the slender 28-year-old from Meerut, employed as a Traveling Ticket Examiner (TTE) at Northern Railways, surprised everyone with a burst of energy to pass Japan’s Ririka Hironaka. Her strategic move of overtaking from the inside lane left spectators in awe and TV experts thrilled. Parul was seen as a symbol of the ‘new India,’ where dreams become reality.

While speaking to reporters on India’s Asian Games success, Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur said, “Our athletes performed very well during the Asian Games. This was possible due to the dedication of our players, as they are getting all the required facilities and resources.” He also gave credit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in creating a holistic sports ecosystem, and the support provided through initiatives like the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and the Khelo India Scheme. Thakur detailed the steps taken for Asian Games preparation, including specialized training camps, the appointment of foreign experts, and extensive foreign exposure trips for athletes.

He also mentioned the individualized support provided to top athletes like Neeraj Chopra, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, Sharath Kamal, and Vishnu Saravanan. Thakur highlighted the restructuring of TOPS, the success of Khelo India in talent identification, and the increasing bench strength of athletes. He acknowledged the contribution of women athletes and the expansion of India’s medal tally into new disciplines such as roller skating, sailing, table tennis, rowing, and equestrian sports.

India’s journey at the Asian Games has been a rollercoaster ride, marked by challenges, determination, and eventual triumph. From humble beginnings, the country has evolved into a sports powerhouse with a promising future. The record-breaking performance at the 2023 Asian Games is a testament to India’s commitment to sports development and its athletes’ unwavering dedication. As the nation looks ahead to the 2024 Paris Olympics and beyond, India’s athletes continue to strive for excellence on the global stage, inspiring generations to come.

Here is a look at India’s Asian Games medal tally over the years:

1951: 15 gold, 16 silver, 20 bronze – Total: 51 medals
1954: 5 gold, 4 silver, 8 bronze – Total: 17 medals
1958: 5 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze – Total: 13 medals
1962: 10 gold, 13 silver, 10 bronze – Total: 33 medals
1966: 7 gold, 3 silver, 11 bronze – Total: 21 medals
1970: 6 gold, 9 silver, 10 bronze – Total: 25 medals
1974: 4 gold, 12 silver, 12 bronze – Total: 28 medals
1978: 11 gold, 11 silver, 6 bronze – Total: 28 medals
1982: 13 gold, 19 silver, 25 bronze – Total: 57 medals
1986: 5 gold, 9 silver, 23 bronze – Total: 37 medals
1990: 1 gold, 8 silver, 14 bronze – Total: 23 medals
1994: 4 gold, 3 silver, 16 bronze – Total: 23 medals
1998: 7 gold, 11 silver, 17 bronze – Total: 35 medals
2002: 11 gold, 12 silver, 13 bronze – Total: 36 medals
2006: 10 gold, 17 silver, 26 bronze – Total: 53 medals
2010: 14 gold, 17 silver, 34 bronze – Total: 65 medals
2014: 11 gold, 10 silver, 36 bronze – Total: 57 medals
2018: 16 gold, 23 silver, 31 bronze – Total: 70 medals
2023: 28 gold, 38 silver, 41 bronze – Total: 107 medals

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