A bold new world for India's sportspersons

Clearly, India’s sportspersons are getting more confident. This shows in the country’s best-ever medal tally at the Asian Games.

Amit Panghal was on level terms with Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov, and when it came to the decider, the Indian appeared mentally stronger.   -  AP

Talking to table tennis star G. Sathiyan in Jakarta the other day, one could notice a brand new confidence in our athletes.

“There are a lot of things happening; the Chinese are not invincible any more,” said the 25-year-old from Chennai who played a big part in India jolting Japan in the men’s team quarterfinals that brought the country its first ever table tennis medal – a bronze – at the Asian Games.

“Of course, China is still a major force, still one level up, not only to India but to the entire world. If you take the No.2, Japan, they also feel China is still one level up. We are one level below Japan, but we have also started beating the Chinese here and there; they are also losing to the Japanese.”

Sathiyan sees the Jakarta show as the start of something big for the country in table tennis, which could turn out to be a dream story like badminton, where India is now a major force in the world.

Confidence boost

Boxer Amit Panghal did not allow Hasanboy Dusmatov’s massive reputation to worry him in their 49kg final. Not only was Dusmatov the Olympic champion, he was also adjudged as the best boxer in Rio.

That would have turned many to jelly, but Panghal probably did not know what that meant. The 22-year-old pugilist was on level terms with the Uzbek and when it came to the decider, the final round after the two had shared the honours in the first two, the Indian appeared mentally stronger.

Panghal had been the silver medallist at the recent Commonwealth Games and he knew that the Asian Games gold would change his life. “When someone wins gold, his life certainly changes. Mine will also change,” said Panghal, the son of a farmer.

Manjit Singh (332) won the men’s 800m gold ahead of Kerala’s Asian leader Jinson Johnson. But the latter got his revenge later by taking the 1,500m gold. PTI   -  PTI

 

Women on a high

Some of the greats of shooting and wrestling in India have found life difficult in the Asian Games arena. But not Maharashtra’s Rahi Sarnobat, who became the first Indian woman to win a shooting gold at the Asian Games, by taking the 25m air pistol event.

Vinesh Phogat did the same in wrestling, in the 50kg freestyle, as women broke new ground in Jakarta. And this time, for the first time, both shooting and wrestling brought two golds each.

But the big push up the medal table came from athletics. Seven golds came from athletics alone and all the other sports combined could manage only eight!

Neeraj’s world-class gold

Of the seven athletics gold medals, Neeraj Chopra’s was the only one that had “world class” written all over. Two years ago, when he failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics after a shoulder sprain, the Haryana athlete was shattered. He was just 18 then, but he rose brilliantly from that huge disappointment and now has an impressive collection of golds, including the under-20 worlds, the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Championships and now the Asian Games. His gold was the country’s first in the javelin throw.

“I didn’t come here with any target distance-wise. I just wanted to give my 100 per cent. Of course, the preparations were good; I expected to break the Asian Games record,” said Neeraj.

With three men – the Germans Johannes Vetter, Andreas Hoffman and Thomas Rohler – going over 90m this year, the men’s javelin throw is now probably at its strongest phase in history.

But that hasn’t rattled Chopra one bit. With an 88.06m throw that broke his national record set in the Doha leg of the Diamond League in May, he has shown that he is getting ready for the challenge from the world’s best. If there is one athlete who is closest to an Olympic medal, it is him.

While Chopra was cruising in Jakarta, Swapna Barman was frequently holding her chin. Shortly after landing in Jakarta, she had consumed too much chocolates and that hurt her teeth and gums badly. But despite the toothache and painful feet — because she has an extra toe on each foot but uses shoes and spikes made for normal people — she fought her way to the heptathlon gold, the country’s first at the Asian Games. The biggest surprise was Manjit Singh, who won the men’s 800m gold, jolting Kerala’s Asian leader Jinson Johnson. But the latter got his revenge later by taking the 1,500m gold.

The quadruple sculls rowing team of Swarn Singh, Dattu Bhokanal, Om Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh added to India’s tally in Jakarta.   -  PTI

 

Impressive results

Many have often wondered why Indian athletics teams are picking countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Finland and Bhutan for training and competitions – and they often appear to be just running against each other in meets in these places – and what exactly they are doing there. Nonetheless, the results were impressive in Jakarta.

The strange and sudden slump in form of the Chinese triple jumpers also raised many eyebrows. That saw Arpinder Singh, a former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, win his life’s most precious gold.

Singh was one of the few who has been training in India. He had been to England a couple of years ago, but he felt that his earlier stint had played havoc with his technique and it took him a long time to undo things. He now appears to have regained his confidence and technique.

There is often a strange pattern when it comes to the shot putters. National records are broken at home or under strange circumstances abroad, but when it comes to the big Games, they have not come anywhere close to their best in recent years.

Tajinderpal Singh’s very impressive 20.75m, only his fourth throw over 20m and a new national record, has changed all that.

Hima Das, who played a big part in the Indian women’s 4x400m relay team triumph, also stunningly broke the national record in the individual 400m, becoming the first Indian woman to go under 51s with her 50.79 winning the silver behind Bahrain’s Nigeria-born Asian record holder Salwa Eid Naser, the current World No.2.

Dutee Chand had a fine silver double too in the women’s 100m and 200m. She shocked China’s Asian leader Yongli Wei, the only girl who has run under 11s in the shorter sprint this season, but was denied gold by Bahrain’s Nigeria-born Edidiong Odiong in both the races.

In badminton, Olympic medallists P. V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal fell short of gold again, winning silver and bronze, respectively. In their defence, though, both were beaten by Tai Tzu-ying, who’s currently in a class of her own.

A bridge to gold

With bridge, which made its debut in Jakarta, bringing gold through Pranab Bardhan and Shibhnath Sarkar, and the men’s doubles tennis team (Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan) and the quadruple sculls rowing team also striking gold (Swarn Singh, Dattu Bhokanal, Om Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh), India’s tally looked impressive in the end.

But there were big disappointments in men’s hockey, where the defending champion ended with a bronze, and in kabaddi where the others have picked up the sport to make life difficult for India.