Population and Olympic Success: Rajdeep Sardesai has got it wrong

Had posted it as a facebook note recently. Apologies for cross posting but I believe in increasing the worth of not just MZ but also WP 

Rajdeep Sardesai recently wrote a rather provocative but unremarkable piece on Olympics and India. One excerpt being cited by the website itself : ”

While the world soaks in the Olympic spirit, India’s role has been that of the enthusiastic spectator on the margins. Eight Olympic gold medals in hockey reflect a sepia-tinted nostalgia for another era. Four bronze, one silver and one gold in individual sport represent a pitiful tally for a billion-plus country. Why even tiny Jamaica, with a population equal to a Mumbai suburb, has claimed 55 Olympic medals since its independence in 1962.”

The argument is problematic. If India was indeed a country with the population of a Mumbai Suburb, we perhaps indeed would have been winning a medal or two every edition just as Jamica does. The billion plus unfortunately on this front is not (yet) a strength but a problem, more so because we are a true democracy.

The larger point, journalism schools need to offer classes on causal inference.

Saina Nehwal beats higher ranked Chinese to reach Semis: But will she shine at the London Olympics?

Fri June 15: 9:30 am Central Daylight Time

I just finished watching Saina Nehwal beat Wang ( World No 3 Chinese Player) in the quarter finals of the BWF super series premium Indonesian Open. Although Saina managed to scrape through in three tight sets ( the latter two of which I watched), what separates her from a near dominance of the game.

There was absolutely no denying the she was the better player. The scoreline (21-17, 21-23, 21-19) may suggest otherwise She dominated most of the second set and a fair amount of the third. In fact, the way the second set was going, there was little reason to doubt that she would close the match in two without much difficulty.Then why did the match proceed to the third game?

Saina had a comfortable 4 or 5 point lead throughout that second game. And she maintained it right through the time she led 20-17.  The way she squandered 4 points in a row then was inexplicable. Including one where she misjudged a shuttle as going wide, one she could have comfortably returned. And the game went into the third. The third too she was ahead most of the time, but she let Wang narrow  a 19-16 lead to 19-19. Finally some inspired play in the last two points and she managed to win.

Saina was in a state of complete disbelief after she won.  To me that seems the crux of the problem. It appears that she doesn’t believe that she can win these big matches against higher ranked opponents. Therefore after setting up the lead and getting a point away from victory, she lets nerves take over.  Today, that made her play an extra set, one that she could have lost and with it the match.

The pressure at the Olympics will only be higher. Her game is not in her way.  She just needs to learn how to close matches like today’s in two sets instead of three.Here’s  wishing her the very best.