Hava Nagila!

Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid

The Olympics – London, 2012 – Part 1

In 1992, my cousin Sriram introduced me to the Olympics held in Barcelona through TV. I was 8 then. I didn’t see much then but whatever I saw glued me to the seat. I clearly remember having a sense of awe and admiration for the athletes. It has only increased with time. Sports where a 0.001 second can make a difference, where one’s abilities are tested beyond anything, where team work and individual capacities go hand in hand, where the colour of the medal matters a lot, the comraderie and the rivalry, the podiums, the playing of National Anthems – The Olympics definitely has an aura of its own.

Of course, as an Indian, I have felt elevated every time an Indian wins a medal at the Olympics. I am told that the entire nation wept along with P T Usha and Shiny Wilson when they missed out on their Olympic medals. Karnam Malleswari, Abhinav Bindra, Leander Paes, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Bhaskaran, all make me happy.

I am least concerned that India doesn’t win in the Olympics. I am not concerned that India struggles to make it to the medals tally and least about the fact that even if we make it, we make it as the last in the list. What pains me is the fact that we don’t even want to participate in many games. More so, the knowledge about Olympics, even amongst the so called elite and educated population, in India is abysmally low. This attitude needs to change.

I just thought I will share some of the stories pertaining to the Olympics that have inspired me. These might help inspire some to atleast be cognizant of the games and watch it on TV.

Pierre de Coubertin, a French man, is considered as the father of modern Olympics. He revived the ancient Greek tradition of athletes competing in a common and fair environment for various sporting events and titles. He organized the first of such games in Paris in 1900. 112 years have passed since then and The Olympics continues to be one of sport’s highest stages.

The Olympic Creed: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.

I have been fascinated and inspired time and time again by some of the finest display of talent, some unbelievable sportsmanship, great contests, superb victories and stunning losses. I will recall some of the instances that make me get goosebumps.

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely weighing just 2 kilos as the 20th of 22 siblings. She contracted polio at the ages of 4 and wore a leg brace till she was 9. She wore an orthopedic shoe for another 2 years. Black, woman, poor, disabled – none of these are criteria that would make her one of the world’s fastest runners!!

In her autobiography, she wrote, “My doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” More than treatment, intense belief and determination cured her. Within a couple of years, she was challenging every boy in her school. Coach CC Gray said of Wilma, “You’re little, you’re fast and you always get in my way.”

1956, Olympic Games in Melbourne – Wilma won the Olympic Bronze for 4 * 100 metre relay race. Many of her clasamates touched her medal and she found lot of finger prints on it when she got it back. She cleaned it with the hem of her dress and found that bronze didn’t shine. She decided to go for the Gold in the next games.

1958 – She gave birth to her first child. Post her delivery, she trained for the 1960 Games!!

1960, Olympic Games in Rome – Wilma won 3 golds for 100 m, 200 m and 4 * 100 m relay races setting world records in The Stadio Olympico amidst chants of “Vilma, Vilma”. In the relay race, she dropped the baton, picked it up and ran the race of her life, winning it in style.

If this isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what will be.

An Epic Final

Period: The cold war era. Game: Basketball. Event: Olympic Finals, 1972. Location: Munich.  Countries Participating: US vs USSR.  Time: Witching Hour – A few minutes past midnight. At half time: USSR lead 26 – 21.

For the US, it was a race to their 7th consecutive basketball Gold. For the USSR, it was fierce pride.  

Post half time, USSR extended the lead. In a stroke of inspiration, the US bounced back in the final 6 minutes in typical Hollywood fierceness to make it 49 – 48, advantage USSR. One dunk by Collins in the final few seconds ensured a US victory. Or so they thought, because the Americans had actually started celebrating. A match official intervened and ordered the clock to be set to 00:03 based on some calculations.

3 seconds. It just couldn’t get bigger than this.

Ivan Edeshko did a Hail Mary Pass which was caught by his teammate, dunked and the USSR had won!! Hail Mary!! The Americans appealed but it was rejected. Ofcourse it would be, they said, as 3 of the 5 panelists were from Communist countries.  

The US team forfeited the presentation ceremony. For the first time in an Olympics, a podium was empty. The players refused to accept their silver medals. Till date, it remains in a Swiss vault. The US captain Davis, has written in his will that none of his family must accept that medal. Why? In his words, “Someone could get hold of it. Maybe not my children but my grandchildren or great-grandchildren and to me it’s not mine. I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it. And I want nothing to do with it.”

Sporting rivalry runs as high as this in The Olympics!!

More stories in Part 2.

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