If there was one word to describe the Indian team's performance at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham, it would be unprecedented.
Given that shooting, which earned India 16 medals in Gold Coast four years ago, was not included in this year's Games, the outstanding performance by India's top athletes deserves special recognition. Slipping out of the top five was thought to be a real possibility, but India's phenomenal success in athletics and lawn bowls propelled it to a commendable fourth-place finish. India finished fourth with 61 medals, including 22 gold medals, 16 silver medals, and 23 bronze medals.
As expected, India experienced a medal rush in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, badminton, and table tennis; however, athletics was the one field that helped boost the country's medal tally. Overall, the 210-member strong team had a big success story from the Birmingham Games, with table tennis player Achanta Sharath Kamal and boxer Nikhat Zareen doing the honors on the final day. Following their dazzling performance at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Indian athletes have begun to return home to warm receptions, complete with the ubiquitous dhols, garlands, and bouquets.
As the elation, passion, and myriad emotions subside, a quick glance at the medal tally reveals numerous memorable highlights that will linger in the hearts of fans for years. Indian athletes returned home with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Despite the fact that the 2018 athletes won 66 medals and finished third in the table, the difference this year is the diversity of sports.
India discovered unexpected medalists in Lawn Bowls and the women's team's iconic gold medal, India's first ever in Lawn Bowls, won millions of hearts back home.
Medals in athletics, known as the "mother of all sports," are more difficult to come by at the CWG. And India's performance is even more reason to rejoice. Avinash Sable not only broke Kenya's hegemony but also came tantalizingly close to winning gold in the men's 3000m steeplechase. The fact that all medals in the event had been won by Kenyan athletes since 1998 underscores the significance of the victory. The prestigious medals won by Eldhose Paul, Sandeep Kumar, Priyanka Goswami, Annu Rani, and Tejaswin Shankar added to India's success at the grand event. India only managed three medals in Athletics at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. However, India's athletes set new records and won eight medals at the CWG 2022, including a prestigious gold.
Sharath Kamal reaffirmed his status as a champion and an inspiration by winning multiple medals at the games. In wrestling, Vinesh Phogat, Ravi Kumar, Sakshi Malik, Naveen, Deepak Punia, and Bajrang Punia all won gold medals. In fact, every wrestler on the Indian team is returning with a medal. P.V. Sindhu and Lakshya Sen were unstoppable on their way to gold in badminton singles, while Mirabai Chanu was a weightlifting force to be reckoned with. Indian shuttlers Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy upgraded their 2018 Commonwealth Games men's doubles from silver to gold, while Kidambi Srikanth and the young women's doubles pair Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand finished with bronze medals in the Commonwealth Games badminton competition. Nikhat Zareen, Amit Panghal, and Nitu Ghanghas dominated boxing, each winning gold in their respective categories.
Despite the absence of shooting, which provided seven gold medals four years ago, India came within one gold medal of matching their 2018 total of 26. Overall, the Indian contingent performed better than expected. There is reason to believe that if the shooting had been included in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, India's medal tally would have surpassed the total from 2018.
While it is true that the trend has begun to improve and will hopefully snowball into greater achievements from India's athletes in the future, the sports administration must continue to work with the athletes to help them build on their performances. With some major events coming up, including the Asian Games next year, let's hope India can move closer to establishing itself as a sporting powerhouse and produce even more podium finishers at the World Championships next year and the Paris Olympics in 2024.