It’s one of the many joys of a mega multi-sport event—the rise of the unknown and unheralded athlete, defying the odds to stand on the podium. And if the athlete is from a country not known for sporting excellence or a country mired in conflict and poverty, then that medal becomes more than just a victory on the playing field.
When India’s Virdhawal Khade, 19, won bronze in the 50m butterfly swimming event at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, he did it without the support of elite coaches or world-class infrastructure, unlike the Chinese, South Korean or Japanese swimmers he was up against. Ashish Kumar, 19, did the same with gymnastics, a sport that has little following or infrastructure in India, by beating some of the best gymnasts in the world to win the country’s first ever medal in the sport at the Asian Games.
Manipur’s Sandhyarani Devi, 27, too took up a sport few people in India know anything about—the Chinese martial art called wushu—and fought her way all the way to the Asian Games final. She went into the bout with an injury, but held her own, losing narrowly to the reigning world champion, Iran’s Khadijeh Azadpour.
And while the fancied Indian shooting team failed to make any impact at the Games, yet another little known athlete, sculler Bajrang Lal Takhar, 29, went straight for the gold—the first for an Indian rower.