KATHMANDU: Olympics held in the interval of every four years across various continents are best known for making and breaking of records by individual athletes and the participating countries.
Rio Olympics 2016 hence was no exception. Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt’s treble-treble, British Mo Farah’s double-double and American swimmer Michael Phelps’ staggering 27 individuals medals were among the most notable of the individual records in this year’s Olympics held for the first time ever in South America.
Furthermore, ten nations won their first ever Olympic medal in Rio with small countries like Fiji, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Vietnam creating history and prompting wild celebrations back home. Fiji even declared a national holiday after its Rugby team struck gold as the first ever Olympic medal of the country, by beating the United Kingdom in the process.
Nepal too in the records book
Nepal is yet very far from its first every Olympic medal and it seems still a long way given the performance of our athletes since they began participating in the Olympics 52 years ago in Tokyo in 1964.
However, Nepal as a country has been encrypted into the records book for fielding the youngest athlete of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad or the 2016 Summer Olympics. Nepali national champion swimmer and multi-records holder Gaurika Singh became the youngest among more than 11,000 athletes representing 205 countries. At 13 years and 255 days, Gaurika was the centre of attraction in Rio and was able to at least give a name for the country.
She could however not leave any mark in the event as far as her individual performance was concerned. Based in the UK with her parents, the teenager could not even meet her target of breaking the national record in 100 meters backstroke that she competed.
Mary Hanna of Australia was the oldest competitor in this year’s summer Olympics. At age 61, Hanna competed in her fifth Olympics representing her country in the equestrian event.
Nepal’s performance in Rio ’16
After her stellar performance in the 12th South Asian Games held in India earlier this February, with four individual medals including a silver, Gaurika had raised hopes of Nepal for at least a respectable show in Rio. More so reasonable was the expectation from her because she was completely based in London enjoying all the amenities for a developed country’s athlete including a British coach. Gaurika was also followed by the British media as she prepared in London to represent her motherland in Rio.
However, traditionally Nepal’s hope for accolades in any regional or international sporting events has been on the martial arts sports like boxing, Judo and Taekwondo. Though Nepal has waned down in boxing, Judo and Taekwondo continue to bring one-off laurels to the country, including in the last South Asian Games. This was also evident in the fact that Nepal’s only medal in an Olympic event remains the bronze medal that Bidhan Lama won in Taekwondo in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. However, Taekwondo was only an exhibition sport then, thereby not officially counted as an Olympic medal for the country.
Given this background, Phupu Lhamu Khatri (Judo) and Nisha Rawal (Taekwondo) were the ones only likely to take Nepal anywhere near to the medal tally. Despite receiving a wild card entry to the gala event, both failed to progress to the second round, albeit improving the performance as far as withstanding the time of bout with the opposition is concerned. Rawal lost by a whisker going down 4-3 to her French opponent Gwladys Epangue, who won a bronze medal. Hence, looking at the performance so far, Nepal seems to be making strikes in both Judo and Taekwondo.
Other notable performers in Rio were Shirish Gurung (Swimming) and Saraswati Bhattari (athletics) who set new national records, meeting their target for the games. Hari Kumar Rimal (athletics) and Jit Bahadur Moktan (archery) were the other two among the total seven athletes who represented Nepal in seven different sport categories in Rio 2016.
Way forward to Tokyo 2020 and beyond
Despite marked improvement in the individual performance of Nepali athletes, there are no signs that show that we would be winning a medal in the Olympics anytime in the near future.
Sports are yet to become a full-time profession in Nepal. Hence, it requires a great deal of planning, a well-thought strategy with abundant funds and a national resolve to be able to have the country’s flag hoisted as our athletes take to the winner’s podium in the Olympics arena. Investment in athletes and sports infrastructure is always raised as an issue for Nepal not being able to perform well in sporting events at the international level. But the performance of neighbouring giant, India, limited to a mere two medals in Rio, does not prove that argument to be cent percent right. Countries like Vietnam, Fiji and Puerto Rico winning medals, and that too gold, prove otherwise too.
Hence, Nepali sports authorities should draw lessons from the success of such countries with a small economy and concentrate on events that the country is best at, set a target for multiple years and work on it to fruition. And, the next Olympics to be held four years later in Tokyo, Japan in 2020 could be used as a measuring point to look back at our performance so far, as we complete a 56-year-long voyage around the globe since the beginning of our participation in the international jamboree at the same city of Tokyo in 1964.Manoj Karki