Cheering the Olympic Sikhs

Sikh American Gold Medalist Alexi Grewal (source: Cycling Art Blog)

1984 Gold Medalist in cycling (and Sikh American) Alexi Grewal (source: Cycling Art Blog)

Like many others, I have been watching the Olympics and following closely the American national team in the many events that I don’t get to watch typically. And, like many Sikhs across the world (especially on social media sites), I have also celebrated the presence of Sikhs on the various national teams such as India and Canada (Sikh Canadian Arjun Bhullar made waves for wearing a turban during the opening ceremonies as he walked with the Canadian Olympic team).

An article in the Washington Post discusses the affinity that many religious minorities have for members of their faith who compete on other national teams:

“For people who are part of a minority, to see one of your own have this international recognition gives you enormous satisfaction and pride,” said Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., where [gold medalist Aly] Raisman has worshipped since childhood. “It lets you say, ‘Look at what we’ve managed to do.’”

There is truth in that statement. For Sikhs, like for many minorities, it is something significant to see one of their own competing at the highest of levels. It’s a source of inspiration and validation, allowing us to claim our space in our diasporic communities:

Tarlochan Singh Nahal, a Sikh from San Jose, Calif., still remembers the pride he felt when Alexi Grewal, whose father was Sikh, won a road cycling gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, just five years after he came to the United States. Grewal was not only the first Sikh American to win an Olympic medal, but the first American to take gold in a road cycling event, and provided Sikhs with a high-profile introduction to Americans who had previously never heard of Sikhism.

And, particularly for Sikhs in the diaspora who have been traditionally encouraged to pursue typical career paths, it’s an indication that the glass ceiling can be broken –  not just in terms of being able to compete as an American, but also in that athletics can be an acceptable vocation for a Sikh. In many ways, we envision the fruition of our own dreams and hopes in those Sikh athletes.


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