Sometimes a game is just a game, but when it comes to the Olympics, many countries view sports as a metaphor for their standing in the world. The medal rankings constitute a black-and-white yardstick for national pride and, in some cases, much more. Even though the medals are won through the sweat, skill and power of individual athletes, a geopolitical subtext lurks beneath the medal counts. This year, the United States leads those standings by a mile; China is trying to keep up; and Russia, caught playing dirty, barely made it into the competition.
But what about India? Despite being a rising global power and the world’s second-most-populous nation, the country ranks dead last in all-time per-capita medals won at the Olympics. Nobody is quite sure why.
At the current Olympics in Rio, India looked like it might not score a single medal. Then on Wednesday, at long last, Sakshi Malik won a bronze medal in women’s wrestling. Earlier, the gymnast Dipa Karmakar had come agonizingly close, finishing fourth with a breathtaking performance that made her a national hero and won her plaudits around the world.