Over the last 24 hours, almost every conversation involving the home followers of the 44th Chess Olympiad began by hailing India’s first ever twin-bronze winning effort but invariably ended with the above refrain, laced with a definite tinge of disappointment.
A late slip-up for India 2 in the Open section and India 1 in the women turned prospective gold into consolation bronze medals.
At the breakfast table on Wednesday morning, K. Humpy’s smile could not hide the disappointment of the top-seeded team not winning the gold.
The country’s strongest woman chess player said, “We are happy to win the bronze but there is disappointment. We could have won the gold. We performed well against close rivals Ukraine and Georgia and should have beaten Poland. Going as leaders into the final round and losing to the USA was tough to take. If this defeat had come in the earlier rounds, it would have been okay. It was sad to see Tania and Bhakti, who won so many games, lose against the US.
“Not happy” with her own play, Humpy picked Vaishali for special praise. “Vaishali’s victories on Board 3 played a big role in taking us to the podium. She is very strong and will be a Grandmaster soon!”
After the teen quartet in India 2 won the final round for the bronze emedal, coach R. B. Ramesh hailed the young side for living up to the expectations of being among the medals.but was quick to add, “It could have been better.”
If the stunning 3-1 victory over the favourite USA was the high point, equally, the heart-crushing loss to eventual champion Uzbekistan was indeed tough to take.
Viswanathan Anand, the Indian contingent’s mentor, later described D. Gukesh’s top-board loss as a “tragedy” and felt “gutted” by the 2-2 result of a match that India looked like winning for the better part.
This ‘loss’ of a point meant India 2 went into the final round in third place, behind joint leaders Uzbekistan and Armenia. Eventually, they finished in that order.
Reflecting on Gukesh’s match-equalizing loss on the top board against tUzbekistan, Nihal Sarin, gold-winner on Board 2, said, “Initially we were all very upset. Of course, that was really painful, But it's okay, it happens. It made sense for Gukesh to try (against Nodirbek Abdusattorov). He was really in such great form. He was carrying our team. In that game, he was winning earlier. So I guess he just wanted to win at all costs, which backfired.”
Eventually, seven individual medals, to go with the two team bronze medals and India 1 walking away with the Gaprindashvili Cup for being the best combined team in this Olympiad provided some late joy.
However, in view of the consistency of the Indian teams on the podium, any future discussion involving discerning the colour of the medals might still end with the common refrain, “It could have been better.”