The game’s on: How the year of disruptions opened the field wider

If the world of sports taught us anything in 2021, it’s that a little empathy can go a long way. Illustration: Immayabharathi K

87.58. Since August 7 that became India’s official number for 2021.

That was the distance, in metres, Neeraj Chopra hurled the javelin to bring India their only gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Finally, Abhinav Bindra had company in the exclusive club of Indian individual gold medallists at the Olympic Games.

For a nation starved of sustained top-level sporting excellence, the likeable Chopra’s phenomenal achievement was like Manna from heaven. Not only did it mean India finished with their highest medal count (seven) – the bar hadn’t been set all that high, the previous best being a modest six – at a single Olympics, it also temporarily lifted the pall of gloom that had descended on the nation, indeed the world, in the aftermath of the deadly second wave of COVID-19.

The celebrations in India were typically over the top. No one loves a winner more than us, just as no one is as quick to drop those who have fallen from grace like a hot potato. Chopra was feted and felicitated and honoured and hosted by so many for so long that he couldn’t compete in a single event for the rest of the year.

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