The Asian Games 2018, or Jakarta Palembang 2018, is well on its way to becoming perhaps the most successful modern-era outing for India in Asian Games history. With three days to go, India’s 572-strong contingent is already at 54 medals (and counting), with 11 golds, 20 silvers and 23 bronze medals so far. Most notably, India’s 14 (and counting) medals in Athletics is not just surprising but a big boost to athletes dreaming of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
There are the expected medalists – PV Sindhu (silver), Saina Nehwal (bronze), Neeraj Chopra (gold), Dutee Chand (silver), Hima Das (silver), Rohan Bopanna (gold), Vinesh Phogat (gold), Heena Sindhu (bronze) and Jinson Johnson (silver).
But what is India if not a nation of inspirational underdog stories, right? Here are some of the heartwarming, unexpected and surprising medalists of Asian Games 2018:
Manjit Singh (800m gold)
The Haryana athlete, who has been winning silver medals behind favorite Jinson Johnson for the last three years, pulled off one of the great upsets in Jakarta by running his personal 800-m best and winning a gold medal four years after he wasn’t even selected for the Asian and Commonwealth Games. Singh has been jobless for three years, choosing to concentrate on his training, and hasn’t even seen his five-month-old son because he has been training in Bhutan and Ooty. His story is the ultimate fairytale, and the lung-bursting way he accelerated in the last 50m proved that there is nothing that builds character more than crippling hardships in a country replete with obstacles.
Tejinder Pal Singh Toor (Shot put gold)
The 24-year-old Punjabi shot putter entered the Asian Games after coming a disappointing seventh in the Commonwealth Games earlier this year. Yet, on Saturday night, he lit up the Games with a national and Asian Games record of 20.75m. Toor put “eight times the effort” in Jakarta, and dedicated his medal to all his friends and family who have been dutifully caring for his cancer-stricken father while he has been training night and day. Toor, who was on the verge of quitting the sport back in April because of his father’s health, is now an Asian champion. But he immediately returned to his father’s bedside less than a day after becoming the toast of the nation.
Arpinder Singh (Triple jump gold)
The 25-year-old Amritsar native Arpinder Singh bagged India’s first triple-jump gold medal at the Asian Games in 48 years after setting a mark of 16.77m on Tuesday night. This was his first gold, after he won the bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and came fourth at this year’s Commonwealth Games. His jump was still not his personal best (17.17m), but Singh, who finished fifth four years ago in the Asian Games, will now head to Tokyo as one of India’s legitimate medal hopes in perhaps the world’s toughest field.
Swapna Barman (Heptathlon gold)
When a 17-year-old Barman came fifth in Asian Games 2014, she was already tipped to be India’s next star heptathlete. She won the Asian Championship gold in 2017, before finally fulfilling her promise and winning the gold at Jakarta with her personal best score of 6026 points. Till last year, Barman’s dire financial condition was highlighted by the media, especially when her ailing father admitted that they could never afford to give her the kind of diet and training she needed. Yet, Barman fought through and became India’s first ever heptathlete to win an Asian Games gold medal on Wednesday night. She won the high jump, javelin throw, and finished runner-up in the long jump and shot put out of the seven events. She didn’t do well in the running events – 100m and 200m, but more than made up by placing a decent 4th in the 800m, where she had collapsed while winning her Asian Championship medal in 2017.