Usain Bolt | Michael Phelps

The 2016 Rio Olympics produced more interesting stories than the information which highlighted the feats of athletes who bagged medals. There were two superstars, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps who came under the spotlight prominently like the rear wheels of a tractor, dwarfing all other vehicles on the road. Despite the presence of such giants, spectators at the games got to hear about stories ranging from triple jump silver medalist Will Claye, proposing to girlfriend hurdler Harrison to incidents underscoring a remarkable human quality like showing compassion when Abbey D Agostino offered help to fallen fellow athlete Nikki Hamblin in the 5000-metre event.  Rio was full of these moments which will make the host nation be remembered for what was good, more than the negatives that were associated with the games’ village.

Phelps was the superstar to follow at the Games. The American showed an appreciative audience through his five gold and silver medal winning performance that his decision to come out of retirement can be justified. The American showed that country comes before self when he settled for silver in the 100-metre butterfly, swimming along as a tired and exhausted athlete after his energies were sapped because he competed in several other finals.

Sri Lanka contingent at the Rio Olympics
Sri Lanka contingent at the Rio Olympics

Jamaican Bolt didn’t leave room for other competitors to gain much attention in the men’s 100 and 200-metre sprint events. Justin Gatling thought he might beat this legend, but Bolt blazed the track in the final half of the men’s 200-metre sprint to run away with the gold. What was inspiring about this athlete was that he never for a moment got too serious about the events he contested in. He showed the global sporting world that having a relaxed frame of mind ensures body and mind work at an optimum level. Rio marked the end of journeys for both these great athletes.

The United States of America dominated the Games with 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze medals  and was followed by Asian Super power China which had to be satisfied with 26 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze medals. Great Britain finished third in the points table with 27 gold,  23 silver and 17 bronze medals. A notable Asian giant in international sport, India, finished in 64th place with one silver and one bronze. Sri Lanka led by marathon runner Anuradha Indrajith Cooray fielded a nine-member contingent, but failed to
produce any medals.

Sometimes, Asian countries have their own programmes for national athletes, but they might not meet international standards. This could be true about the training adopted by the majority of the Sri Lanka athletes who made the journey to Rio. Reputed international coaches who have worked in Sri Lanka have observed this problem. These coaches have summed up this issue and aired the view, ‘Sri Lanka is trying too hard’. In other words, Sri Lankans have intensely followed wrong training procedures for a very long time. This is why there are very senior Sri Lankan athletes in many disciplines who have dedicated their best years to sport, but have not won anything outside Asia.

The media  follow only the winners in sport. Why can’t Asian countries follow the routines adopted by these nations that produce winners in abundance? Some of the athletes in the Sri Lankan contingent trained abroad or competed in tournaments which had the best of foreign flavour. Will the Sri Lankan government, the sponsors of these athletes, probe what they were doing abroad in terms of training? It’s time to reflect on Sri Lanka’s performances in Rio, a sporting event which featured 11,303 athletes from 207 nations.
Critics opine that Sri Lankans should view this global sporting event like going on a religious pilgrimage. Religious devotees go through a lot of penance before they embark on certain religious trips. Training, like penance, must be done religiously. Otherwise, things can go terribly wrong, like in Rio.

Returning to the topic of reviewing the performances in Rio, there is this story from the past which is so hilarious. Many moons ago, a swimming team from Sri Lanka contested an international sporting event, but failed to bring home any medals. When being questioned by the sports minister, the coach had blamed the unusual mineral content in the water for the lackluster performance by his chargers. The sports minister snapped back and said, “Did the medal winners swim in another pool?”