When Indian athletes win medals at international events, the story is never just about excelling in a sport. Geeta, who won India’s first ever gold in women’s wrestling in the Commonwealth Games, is nothing short of a pioneer. Wrestling is seen as an exclusively male sport in most parts of India, and when Geeta’s father, a former wrestler, put all five of his daughters in the ring in their village near Bhiwani in Haryana, even friends and family went up in arms against them. Ostracized by their community, and without basic facilities such as mats or gymnasiums, Geeta and her sister Babita still managed to break through into the elite level. Geeta is also just one of the many new Indian athletes making their mark at the Games, a welcome change in a country that has an underdeveloped sports culture.
Sushil Kumar’s exploits have raised expectations of a large medal haul from India’s freestyle wrestlers, but no one had heard of Anil Kumar, Sanjay Kumar and Ravinder Singh, the three Greco-Roman wrestlers who grabbed a gold in all the categories of the discipline on the first day of the Games.
Not many people had heard of Anisa Sayyed and Rahi Sarnobat either, the duo who clinched gold at the women’s 25m pistol pairs event. Sayyed also went on to win the singles event in the same discipline. Vijay Kumar, Gurpreet Singh and Omkar Singh added to the gold tally by India’s pistol shooters, even though the pistol team has been without a coach since August 2008. Crippling government restrictions on the import of competition guns and ammunition means that shooters having to cancel practice sessions are a common occurrence in India.
India’s archers and weightlifters too have contributed heavily to the gold count. With medal rounds for boxing and freestyle wrestling yet to begin, and table tennis, tennis and badminton players moving into the finals in multiple categories, Indian athletes are confident they will better the tally of 30 gold medals they won at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.