The romance of Asian Games is never really lost on the Indian sports fan, though the event may have lost some of its aura in recent times.
For those of us growing up in the 1980s, the memories of Asiad would mean our TV screens suddenly going colourful, a gangly runner by the name of P.T. Usha capturing the imagination with a golden burst in the 1986 edition — not to speak of the numerous epic India-Pakistan hockey contests.
Yes, a newly independent nation may have had the bragging rights of hosting the first-ever continental showpiece way back in New Delhi in 1951, but it was its 1982 avatar which gave birth to a new-look Indian capital. The iconic Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which hosted the opening ceremony, gave Indians the first-ever taste of a multi-purpose stadium while the arrival of colour television was a pleasant departure from the grainy, black-and-white transmissions.
Those were the days before Kapil’s Devil’s phenomenal 1983 World Cup triumph took cricket into the drawing rooms of the middle class Indian household. Indian sport was then always starved of genuine sporting heroes, even though a certain Sunil Gavaskar or a Prakash Padukone gave it the odd reasons to cheer about.
As we fast forward more than three decades and look forward to the upcoming edition of what’s actually the biggest multi-discipline event after the Summer Olympics, one can argue that India has now managed to create its own breed of non-cricket sporting icons — whose performances will claim the eyeballs over the next two weeks.
A look at the big names standing out of a jumbo, 541-member contingent tells you its own story. The most influential sport outside cricket in India in the last five to six years had been badminton — and the triumvirate of P.V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikkanth — who lead the shuttlers’ challenge in a strong field will certainly command most attention. It’s somewhat ironical that the two divas of the court have often tended to overshadow Kidambi’s stature in the game today, but remember the man had the world No. 1 spot to his credit just a few months back.
The quiet, yet highly demanding sport of shooting has also created its wonder performers in recent times — with both men and women competitors returning rich haul at the international arena for more than a decade now. Much hope results here on the shoulders of Heena Sindhu, the first Indian shooter to reach atop the world rankings of ISSF, or a young Manu Bhaker.
In gymnastics, Deepa Karmakar, the ever-smiling girl who showed India is not exactly a laughing stock in this sport with a fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics, seems to be going a full tilt after signalling her comeback with a gold at the recent FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup in Turkey.
The contingent is dotted with an assembly of other newsmakers like the Men in Blue in hockey who packs quite a punch, veteran Olympic medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar, boxer Vikash Krishan Yadav, athletes Neeraj Chopra and the wonder girl Hima Das.