Rise of Gen Next is exciting
You could well call it the rise of the Gen Next from India. Miles away from home, at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires, a bunch of youngsters have been making waves across a gamut of sporting disciplines.
Almost each day when you hear of an Indian medal winner at the YOG, there is a sense of pride that younger athletes are bridging the gap between potential and performance.
Before the young Indian teams left for the long journey to Argentina, the records were not so impressive. As a concept, the YOG was launched by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2010 in Singapore. In two previous editions, India had not won a gold medal.
There has been sharp twist in the script this time, with known names and unknown names creating more than a spark. In a sport like weightlifting, which has been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent times with no medals at the Asian Games and the doping cloud hanging over Sanjita Chanu, it was good a certain Jeremy Lalrinnunga won gold.
Unlike Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary or Mehuli Ghosh, Jeremy is not such a well known name. Yet, the youngster clinched gold in the 62kg category to serve notice of his potential.
If Jeremy had won the second gold medal for India, the record of sorts for India winning their first gold medal at the YOG goes to air rifle marksman Tushar Mane. When someone like Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra is celebrating Tushar's success, getting photos clicked with him and talks about it, you know this is a special talent.
Abhinav has this unique habit of downplaying even his own achievements, so when a youngster whom he has helped shoots gold, for him to speak highly of Tushar was big. Looking at the results the Indian junior shooters achieved in Buenos Aires, Abhinav is excited a whole new generation is ready to take charge.
If Tushar was sensational in air rifle, Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary, India's youngest champions who have already tasted success in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, soaked in the atmosphere beautifully.
So, what is it about the YOG which makes it so special? These are not some kind of fun Games where athletes from other countries come and compete. There is a proper qualification process in place and the Indians went there based on rankings and performances. Manu has said the atmosphere is different and the arena is much bigger than some other events.
This is like a preparation for tougher battles ahead as each one of the medal winners for India finally wants to make the senior grade. The process involves qualifying for Tokyo 2020. If they fail to do so, then they can aim for 2024. Exposure at the level of YOG, competing with the best juniors and learning lessons will come handy.
When India won just two medals at the last Olympics in Rio, there was consternation at home. The reaction was to immediately compare the population size at home with medals won. Hopefully, Indians winning medals in the YOG, with more to come, will change the mindset of athletes, officials and the sporting administration as well.
If in shooting and weightlifting India have done well, the silver medal won by rising badminton star Lakshya Sen is a fantastic achievement. This is one sport where India has great potential. The depth in women's side is complete thanks to the domination of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal.
The senior men did not do well in the recently-concluded Asian Games in Jakarta, so Lakshya's win is significant. Lakshya has been rated as very promising and the young player has not wasted time in thanking gurus Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar for mentoring him.
In India, there is a tendency to put huge pressure on young champions. Luckily, Lakshya, Manu, Saurabh and Mehuli are aware how the pressure will further build up. For the previous generation of athletes, there was nothing like exposure at the YOG and learning lessons from it.
Manu Bhaker has had a long year and at 16 flown all over the world in 2018. She has had highs, lows and again highs, by winning two medals in Buenos Aires. Even the IOC website has made special mention of her as not many athletes win two medals in one edition of the YOG.
To build on from here, all the young Indian champions need plenty of support and encouragement. All the winners will be bringing back precious medals for the country from Argentina.