Last week, when 26-year-old Bengal gymnast Pranati Nayak bowed out of the race in the artistic gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics, her childhood coach Minara Begum said she was hurt to see her ward’s performance.
“My eyes welled up with tears seeing Pranati’s meek performance in Tokyo this morning. My years of effort on her went in vain,” Minara was quoted as saying.
And earlier, when American gymnast Simone Biles backed out of an event, she was criticised for not bringing home a medal.
After bowing out of the ongoing Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, Indian Archer Atanu Das apologised for not being able to return with a medal. India’s first-ever fencer in the Olympics, CA Bhavani Devi too took to social media to apologise for not making it to the next level, after getting knocked out in Round 2.
Wait... so why are these champions being criticised? Why are they feeling apologetic? For not winning a medal?
It’s the spirit that counts
Winning and losing are both part of the game, what matters is the spirit with which they played the game — and that’s what needs to be celebrated.
Competing in the Olympics is itself a big achievement. And considering the efforts and the sacrifices the players put in, isn’t it unfair criticise them for losing?
Rajlaxmi Singdeo, President, Rowing Federation of India, says that the Indian contingent has done a remarkable job. She stresses that it’s OK if a player has a bad day, it isn’t the end of everything. While admitting that players do get depressed after losing, she points out that that’s when they need to be encouraged for a better show next time.
“Most of the medal winners in the Olympics are second and third-time participants. So what’s important is to keep trying — for that we need to constantly encourage them. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, it’s OK; but what’s important is to keep the spirit alive,” says Rajlaxmi, adding that the player’s hard work should be celebrated.
It may be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of fencer Bhavani. He described her as ‘an inspiration to the country’ in a tweet.
Multiple facets to every win
Everyone goes to the Olympics to win a medal. But winning depends on several factors. The kind of background the players come from, the amount of rigorous training they go through, the sacrifices they have made, should be taken into consideration.
The influence of coaches
Indian boxer and Olympian Venkatesan Devarajan notes that athletes are always under pressure when going to the Olympics. He shares an incident when his coach was furious with him after he lost in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
The coach apparently behaved as if he had committed a crime in losing, Venkatesan said, adding that, as a result, he was in tears for two days, and couldn’t rid himself of the guilty feeling.
“I tried my best but it just wasn’t my day,” recalls Venkatesan, who lost in the second round. Surprisingly, his opponent’s coach came to him and appreciated his efforts, the boxer shares.
“He said that I had done a great job and would definitely win a medal. That gave me a lot of confidence. Two years later, I won the bronze medal in the 1994 World Boxing Championship,” he remembers, adding that the attitude of coaches is instrumental to a player’s success.
However, Chiranjib Choudhuri, Vice-President, Table Tennis Federation of India, says sometimes coaches yell at players out of ‘excitement’– much like how a teacher shouts at a student. He says that since there’s a lot at stake, sometimes coaches get emotional.
He, however, acknowledges that rallying behind the players is crucial.
“Sometimes you may have a bad day, so it is important that we anchor the players and calm them down. That gives them the strength to get over the defeat and get the focus back. If you criticise them, their morale goes down,” he points out, adding, “especially during these Covid-19 times, players’ morale should be very high.”