This was arguably the biggest platform ever. The Olympics. No stage got bigger than this.
And 26 year old Sunil Kumar knew this fairly well. Hailing from a small village in Uttar Pradesh the young lad had crossed hurdles after hurdles to make it to the finals of the 73 kg category of weight lifting. Back home his family consisted of his parents and little sister who was still in school.
Last night he spoke to his parents over the phone and they were probably more excited than him about the upcoming D day. They spoke about how the media had highlighted his achievements thus far and how the village head had come over personally to express his best wishes.
"Son, our respect in this village has increased a lot, you know? Please keep it this way."
"We don't want any other metals, we just want the glittering gold. India is yet to bag a gold this time, you see."
"Yes dad, I know. Though the archer Mohit and wrestler Suman are showing great promise of entering the finals. Let's see what happens."
"Don't worry about others. Focus on your own game."
"Sure dad. Oh the coach wants me to sleep early today, in preparation of the big game. A good rest is vital. Will talk to you tomorrow again, after the game."
And the call disconnected.
Sunil had a light dinner and went to sleep early. He was determined to win it next day.
Next day the event was scheduled at 2pm local time.
The coach Balbinder had high expectations of Sunil too. He was proud of this boy who seemed to cross any and every hurdle and looked set to bag the Gold this year.
Balbinder woke up at 5:30am. He had his work cut out today. He reviewed the list of events today and checked on the athletes making sure everyone was doing fit and fine.
"Sir, we have a call for you."
He was wondering who would call him so early, his family would call him on his cellphone usually. But then a shock waited for him.
"Sir, we have a bad news."
"Just received information that athlete Sunil Kumar's father expired early morning today. He had a heart attack."
"Yes, we suggest that you withhold this information from him till he is done with the finals."
Balbinder didn't say anything. He just disconnected.
He was in two minds now, whether to break the news to Sunil or not.
If he broke the news, there was ample chance that Sunil would fail to do well today. If he withheld this information, it meant withholding the truth. Afterall the departed one was his father.
If he needed to do it, he needed to do it soon to allow enough time for the shock to sink in. He looked at the watch. 7am. He had checked on Sunil 30 minutes back during his routine checks. He made up his mind, he needed to break this news to him.
Sunil wondered who it was again. He opened the door and found the coach standing there with a sombre look on his face.
"What happened, sir? Everything okay."
"Let me come in."
"Sunil, I have a bad news to share."
"Received a call a while back. Your father has passed away."
The seasoned coach immediately hugged him as he could feel his blazer shoulder getting wet as Sunil struggled to hold back his tears. He was too shocked to say anything.
After remaining silent for about 10 minutes the coach again said.
"Sunil... I understand how it feels and if you want to skip today's game I totally understand and will take all responsibility of this on my own."
Sunil did not say anything immediately. After about a minute he finally spoke up.
"Do you know sir, we spoke last evening too. Do you know what he had said? He had asked me for the gold and not bring any other metals."
"Yes sir. I will compete. There is no way I'll give up now. You don't understand sir, this was his last wish. What kind of a son fails to honour a father's last wish?"
"I am proud of you my boy..."
"I know sir, this is my personal loss, a loss that will never ever be okay. But I'll have to win today, come what may! This is for him! Sir please give me some time, I just need some alone time to compose myself. Kindly excuse me."
"Sure my boy, take your time. I'll leave now."
After the coach left, Sunil lay on his bed crying, as memories after memories flashed before his eyes. No he could not be weak. What would his father say had he been here? He tried to imagine. He closed his eyes. And there he saw his father, in his mind, as if.
"Son, I have not gone anywhere. You forgot I told you once? Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed, it just changes forms. I have gone no where, I am here only, in a different form. If you don't bag the gold this time, don't come back home. Will give you my favourite slap if you come without winning." He was grinning as he said the last part.
Sunil had a mild smile too, as if his father had returned.
He opened his eyes. He still had tears in his eyes but the sadness had subsided a tad. Of course he felt his father's expectations weighing heavily on him. He just could not let him down.
On other days he would have descended on a light exercise routine. Today though he had not been able to, but he needed to. He had a poster of a goal in his room. He looked at it, to concentrate and then gradually descended on his exercise routine. He was feeling better now.
No one was supposed to be alive forever anyway but then promises needed to be kept, expectations needed to be met.
He looked at the watch, 10 a.m. already. Wow! Time flies. Another 4 hours. He ventured out of his room and met his coach outside.
"How are you feeling now?"
"Better, sir. Just finished my exercise routine."
"Good! Let's talk about the strategies today."
And they discussed at length. While the sadness was there always, Sunil could also feel his father watching from somewhere close and this made him feel better.
Time passed and it was time for the event. In between Sunil got set in his usual routine, a light meal and focussed his mind on the upcoming game.
Sunil started with the lowest weight he knew he could succeed with and gradually started increasing it. His competitors were equally competitive, but today Sunil was in no mood to fail.
Failure was not an option.
He kept succeeding with increasing weights, his mind strongly focussed. His muscles felt no pain, as if all the quota of pain had been exhausted that morning. He felt a strong determination to pull extraordinary feats.
The coach Balbinder looked in awe as it seemed Sunil was a demon incarnate. Unmatched strength and will power. He kept glancing at the score board and continued to find India at number 1, round after round.
Sunil didn't care to look at the score board. He just wanted to succeed and not give an inch away.
And then it happened.
The winner was formally announced. Sunil had bagged the gold notwithstanding any hurdle, any mishap, any negative vibes.
The moment this was announced, Sunil dropped to the ground draping the tricolour on his face as it got drenched with his tears.
The coach couldn't hold back his tears either.
Even in his deep emotional moment, he could hear a voice somewhere from the skies telling him...
"Congratulations son, you made me proud!"