As India lost a Cricket World Cup semifinal on Wednesday, the nation's glory-hungry gaze, in pursuit of sporting triumphs elsewhere, fell upon its track and field athletes.
On social media, thousands of retweets lay as testament to the attention won by the likes of Hima Das winning two gold medals in the 200m at meets in Poland, Indian athletes returning with 12 gold medals from the Qasanov Memorial meet, and Dutee Chand winning the 100m gold at the World University Games.
At a glance, it would well appear that Indian track and field has never had it better.
That's not quite the case, though. While the triumphs are laudable, any extrapolation into performances at a competitive world stage might be premature. It has to be remembered that these performances would not have been enough to help the athletes qualify for the World Championships, nor the Olympic Games next year. Largely, the gold medals have been won with modest timings (with respect to the world standard) and competition.
Take, for instance, Dutee Chand's win in the 100m at the World University Games in Naples last week. Dutee became the first Indian sprinter to win a gold medal at a World-level meet and was rightly celebrated for her triumph. She won her race with a time of 11.32 seconds. However, that timing was well short of her own personal best of 11.24 seconds. Her gold medal-winning time is, in fact, the 98th fastest of the year so far.
Hima Das' two gold medals in Europe were similar. Das is part of a group of elite Indian athletes who have been training for more than two months in Spala, Poland. The 400m runners, including Das, are competing primarily in the 200m -- with the aim of improving their speed before eventually focusing on the 400m.
Competing in Poznan, Hima Das won the 200m in 23.65 seconds, far below her personal best of 23.10, while V. K. Vismaya was third with 23.75. In the men's events, Mohammad Anas Yahya registered his season's best 200m timing with a 20.75s run to finish third (his PB is 20.63s).
None of these performances are within the top 100 performances recorded in the world this year.
At the following competition in Kutno, competition was even more scarce with the Indians running among themselves and against club athletes from around Poland. Hima and Vismaya's performances in the 200m slipped further to 23.97s and 24.06s respectively but they still completed a 1-2 for India.
India's biggest medal haul, though, was from the Qasanov Memorial Meet in Kazakhstan - the nation's athletes returning with 12 gold medals. However, no athlete recorded timings, jumps, or throws that were close to the qualification standards for the Worlds or the Olympics.
These results, especially those that set Personal Bests, deserve applause and are undoubtedly creditable achievements. However, they must be seen for what they are - athletes competing in meets to gain exposure and further their training. Most of the athletes who won medals are capable of performing better (as shown by their PBs) -- and could well have improved upon their marks if they had been pushed by more intense competition.
In order to keep these medals in perspective, we have provided below a table that depicts selected medal winners, their performances, the best marks in the world this year in their events, the Olympic qualification standards, where their medal-winning performance ranks them globally, their own personal best, and the Indian national record in that event.
Athletes under (a) won gold in the Qasanov Memorial Meet in Kazhakstan, (b) gold in the Poznan Athletics Grand Prix, (c) gold in the World University Games, (d) bronze in the Poznan Athletics Grand Prix