“The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
— the Olympic Creed
India, unfortunately, does not have an illustrious Olympics history – barring the golden era of hockey – when it comes to winning medals. Yet, over the years, several high-profile Indian athletes have had the honour of being called an Olympian. Being at the Olympics isn’t just about winning – it’s almost as much about the struggle, hard work and training that goes into it. It’s also about absorbing the Olympics experience, where you’re surrounded by some of the biggest names in the world of sport. We spoke to a few Olympians and asked them to share some of their Olympics memories.
Nisha Millet, Swimmer, Sydney 2000
It has to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life, even though I couldn’t win a medal for my country. Still, the whole experience of being at the Olympics is something which will stay with me forever. The Olympics village was buzzing with people – and not just ordinary people – as everywhere you looked, you were surrounded by champions. I remember meeting Ian Thorpe, and we had a conversation about swimming, food and being at the Olympics. I also saw Muhammad Ali, Patrick Rafter and Leonardo DiCaprio at the village. It was like a world in itself – huge cafeterias, souvenir shops, enetertainment areas, the works. We were staying in small cottages, and I shared mine with shooter Anjali Bhagwat, and it was great to meet and understand about the challenges athletes from different disciplines and countries face to get to the Olympics. I also saw many Indian athletes performing at their events, and it was a terrific learning experience as well. The Sydney Olympics will always be something I cherish all my life, even though a medal proved to be elusive.
Dhanraj Pillay, Hockey
ATHENS, Greece: India’s Dhanraj Pillay (Top) fights for the ball with Zeeshan Ashraf in the men’s classification 5-8 match of the hockey competition at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, 25 August 2004. AFP PHOTO / JACQUES DEMARTHON. Photo credits: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
I played in four Olympics – Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens – and each experience was different. After every Olympics, there was a sense of disappointment, but I always thought next time, we would do better. Somehow, it never happened and we fell short. Each Olympics was different for me. In Barcelona, I was a youngster who was surrounded by experienced players like Pargat Singh and Jagbir Singh. We came 7th, but it was a good learning experience for me. Sydney was a difficult experience, as we had a good team, we were playing well, but were really unlucky. We needed to beat Poland, but they scored in the dying minutes to draw the game and crush our hopes. We finished 7th again, but that draw against Poland killed our dreams. Athens was my last Olympics, and wasn’t a good experience, as I was picked at the last minute. I regret not winning a medal for India in four attempts as I tried my best, but it wasn’t enough. The Olympics are a great experience for any athlete, and each one was different for me. There are far too many memories I have, but there’s a great sense of regret that overshadows them.
PR Sreejesh, Hockey, London 2012
D699X0 Germany’s Florian Fuchs (top) fights for the ball with Goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran of India during Men’s field hockey preliminary round match against India at Riverbank Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games, London, Britain, 03 August 2012. Photo credit: Christian Charisius
There are two experiences of the Olympics that will always stay with me. The first was on the pitch: it was perhaps the lowest point of my career. We finished 12th, and nothing went our way. Whatever we tried, we just couldn’t succeed and it hurt not to have done better. Off the pitch, it was a different story. The Olympics Village was just brilliant. Anywhere you looked, there were champions. I met Roger Federer and he wished me luck for the Olympics. The team also had a chance to meet up with Steve Waugh. I also met Novak Djokovic, and you realise that these champions are so humble and willing to talk. The London Olympics village was just surreal, as every time you went to the dining hall, you would run into some famous. Michael Phelps was there, as was Serena Williams, and they had no airs. While on the pitch, I wish we could have performed to our potential, and that is a bad memory. But I still feel being in London was certainly an experience I will always remember.
Akhil Kumar, Boxing, Beijing 2008
Russia’s Sergey Vodopyanov (R) fights against India’s Akhil Kumar during their 2008 Olympic Games Bantamweight (54 kg) boxing bout on August 15, 2008 in Beijing. AFP PHOTO / JACQUES DEMARTHON. Photo credit: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
I look back at the Olympics experience in a bittersweet way. I was a few punches from becoming the first Indian boxer to win a medal at the Olympics. In the second round, I faced then world number one Sergey Vodopyanov and beat him. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I felt really good about my chances. I was in the quarter finals and nervously excited about having a shot at glory. Unfortunately, I came up short and was really disappointed. However, Vijender Singh won a medal at Beijing and people started appreciating boxers more. I was happy for Vijender, and it really put boxing on the Indian map at least – people were aware about us. At the Village, I didn’t do much, as I was focussed on winning the medal. I spent a lot of time in the gym training hard, but it was nice being at the Olympics village. I didn’t interact much with other athletes, but was really happy to know Abhinav Bindra had won the gold for India. I did seek him out and wished and congratulated him on his incredible feat. It was a good experience, but I still regret not winning that medal.