Women shine for India amidst a dismal Olympic performance

The Rio Olympics is almost over. India, the second most populous country in the world, will be coming home with just two medals, one silver and one bronze, unless a medal is won in the last wrestling event on Sunday.

Though India is never known as a great sporting nation, this performance was much poorer than the six medal haul including one gold and two silvers from London, 2012. But the silver lining of Rio 2016 for Indian sports was some sterling performance from women athletes. P V Sindhu won silver in badminton singles and Sakshi Mallik won bronze in 58 kilo gram freestyle wrestling. Dipa Karmarkar, first ever Indian athlete to qualify for Olympic gymnastics missed bronze by a whisker. Another notable performance was that of Lalita Babar, a 10th place finish in the 3000 metre steeplechase.

P V Sindhu (left) and Sakshi Malik

P V Sindhu (left) and Sakshi Malik

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“I am the first Simone Biles”

It made sense that Buzz Aldrin, a man who has walked on the moon and lived without gravity, was in Rio to watch a teenage compatriot defy the earth’s forces like no other athlete in history.

The former astronaut cheered as the United States won the women’s gymnastics team title on Tuesday and saluted the special quintet, one of whom was the extraordinary Simone Biles.

Biles, the innovator, the ground-breaker, is a gymnast who comes along every other generation or so – a 19-year-old hailed as the most talented anyone has seen. She is already a superstar of her sport and, by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished, is likely to orbit the same space as the planet’s most recognisable stars.

This 4ft 8in gymnast from Texas, placed into foster care because of her mother’s struggles with drugs and alcohol and adopted when she was five by her maternal grandfather and his wife, has already won two Olympic golds at her debut Games.

She could win five. She is expected to win five. She is almost untouchable.

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Celebrating the Olympic spirit

The Olympics is here again. As usual there are many question marks raised about conducting a costly and lavish extravaganza in a country with lot of poverty around. Also questions are raised about the ability of such a country to organise such a mega event. But unsurprisingly it is the not so well off people of Brazil who are welcoming it more than the rich.


Here, the spectacle of the Olympics seems distant and surreal. While VIPs watched Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies inside Maracana Stadium, the two million people who live in Rio’s 1,000 favelas watched on TVs jury-rigged to electrical lines. The Copacabana beach volleyball venue is less than half a mile from Chapeu Mangueira, but that is as close as residents will get to Rio’s Games, which are costing $6 billion in a city that is in such financial straits it can’t afford to pay its police officers, stock its hospital pharmacies or provide toilet paper to schools.

Still, the people who live in Chapeu Mangueira — named after a hat factory that used to stand on this site — and the adjacent Babilonia favela seem more excited about hosting the Olympics than their richer neighbors down the hill in Leme.

“Ever since I was a child I dreamed about what it would be like to have the Olympics in Rio,” said David Bispo, who was a torch bearer during the relay when it passed through the city on Thursday. “Now is the time to value the Olympics and appreciate how sports can bring people together.”

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