Monday, July 2, 2012

The Olympic Dream

“It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.” - Ali

Atlanta – ’96. Termed “the celebration of the century,” we Indians had a reason to celebrate; our first, and only medal, after 16 long years (first individual medal after 40-odd years) at the Olympics. For the 12-year old in me, it was the time to pin-up India’s new poster boy on the wall (accompanying the quartet of Sachin, Agassi, Jordan and Maradona).

Over the next 6 years, the combined force of Paes and Bhupathi inscribed India’s name in the global Tennis community. They faltered at the quarter-finals of Sydney 2000, and narrowly missed-out on a bronze medal four years later in Athens. But the nation held its hope, and millions of Indians pumped fists and celebrated at every point won.

“They played so well as a team that it prompted the then top Australian doubles pair of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge (known as the Woodies) to predict that Bhupathi and Paes would take their place in tennis doubles after they left the scene.” [courtesy wiki]

By 2008 though, it was a plain formality. The chest-thumping, high-adrenaline duo of the past was merely going through the motions on court. Off-court, they the rift widened between the pair as they won trophies with separate partners at major slams. With a fresh coat of paint, the images disappeared from my wall. The image of Abhinav Bindra winning the gold medal in Beijing flourished as Indian tennis wilted at the whims and fancies of two super-egos.

Their record as a team is enviable, a career record of 303-103 and the Davis Cup record of longest winning streak in doubles, with 23 straight wins. Though their personal playing styles are like chalk and cheese, the dynamism of Paes and consistency of Mahesh have allowed them to build their forte. With Mahesh deciding to partner Bopanna for the upcoming games, the AITA were in quandary. And when they intervened, the fiasco has been broadcast as a national shame. A despicable Sania and a clueless Vishnuvardhan added further chaos to the mess.

In 2011, when the pair decided to re-unite on the ATP circuit after 9 years, an Elton John song propagated through the back of my head, “the candle in the wind.” And, even though they lost in the finals of the Australian open, sparks of the previous magic reignited from their wands. But it was too good, and quick to be true. From bad to worse, the saga continued till the point of annihilating a world-class team for the 2012 Olympics.
Is it fame that empowers the stars of our country to consider themselves invincible and above the nation’s interests? Or, infantile reservations that clutter the thoughts of these superstars? Both of them are at the dusk-end of their careers and the path they chose might not necessarily reciprocate the achievements of the last decade. But, if they choose to join hands for one last time, it might provide hope of a long-lost dream, an Olympic dream.

“My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.” ~ Unknown.

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