The cynic in me put the question mark in the title. Otherwise, the events of the past two weeks do point to a new dawn in Indian sport. Over the past few days, I've been making this point at our lunch discussions that Indian sport can only improve from here. As in so many fields, we are probably at the take-off point for Olympic sport and while we may never become a sporting power like China or the US (or even South Korea), 2008 might just be the beginning of more consistent Indian performances in the Olympics as well as other avenues.
Wait, we've still won only three medals, compared to the 96-odd won by the other billion+ country. One gold, as opposed to tiny Jamaica that won six. Even countries like Ethiopia and Cuba did better than us. So, where is the ray of hope?
It is in the quality of performances by both the medalists and the ones that missed. Take a look at the history of the past games. Other than the eventual medal winners like Leander or Rathore, few Indian sportspersons made it beyond the first couple of rounds. Never before did an Indian player take advantage of a repechage to claim a bronze as Sushil Kumar did in 2008. Never before did we have three players in the round of 16 in any sport. And never before did we see an Indian ranked No. 1 in a shooting sport (although he didn't participate, deferring to Rathore). Add Saina, Sania and the archers, and round it off with the large number of international and grand masters that have made it in chess, and even the cynic in you will see that we are doing better than ever in sports other than cricket.
There are two ways to get medals in sport. The first is the regimented way, followed by the ex-Soviets and China where the government and the army play the central role in finding talent, grooming it under government privilege, (threatening it with dire consequences at times), in short, making it a national project. Then there is the free-market way of encouraging people to follow their heart, ensuring competition, and sitting back for the medals to pour in. Given the abilities of our government, the free-market route is the only one we can hope to take. And that, I believe will start bringing in the dividends in the near future.