India's record medal haul in the Asian Games, which follows a similar feat in the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in October, has provided the country with a fresh impetus to strive for sporting excellence. While the splendid efforts of some of India's sportspersons in Guangzhou deserve the fullest credit, a nuanced analysis of the overall performance must lead to introspection. The countries and regions that finished a slot above and below India in the medal standings — Kazakhstan with 18 gold medals and Chinese Taipei with 13 — are tiny, both geographically and in population size, compared with India. In the event, there can only be limited satisfaction in finishing sixth after bagging 64 medals, including 14 gold. While considering the record medal tally, it should be remembered that the contingent of 626 competitors was the biggest ever fielded by India, which competed in 37 of the 42 sports in the Games. That the country is yet to match world standards in most sports stares us in the face.
The disappointment in shooting, given the magnified image of a highly successful group of marksmen in the Commonwealth Games, where the standards are very low in certain events, was more than compensated by the pleasant surprises provided by the athletes and the rowers. The strong showing by the boxers, led by Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh, stood out while tennis player Somdev Devvarman played way above his ranking for his double gold success. The need to send a contingent numbering almost 900, including officials, should be debated while reviewing India's performance. The Sports Authority of India, which projected a medal haul in the range of 74-108, can have the satisfaction that it did not fall too short in its forecast. Yet a thorough re-appraisal is needed to ascertain the manner in which so many also-rans were cleared at government cost. As expected, China did not only host a memorable event where its third largest city invested $17.90 billion in Games-related infrastructure and everything went like clockwork; it also topped the medals table with a total of 416, including 199 gold and 119 silver. But then China is a world sports superpower. For India, it is time to think of pumping more money into infrastructure across the country rather than beefing up Delhi's existing facilities in a futile exercise to bid for multi-billion dollar, multi-discipline international events sometimes begrimed by scams. Athletic excellence comes at a cost and the immediate goal should be to provide for talented young athletes who are crying out for financial support as well as scientific backup and training. Much can be learnt from how China and South Korea went about overhauling Japan to become Asia's top sporting powers.