A feather in Assam's cap

Grand finale - Dancers perform during the closing ceremony of the 33rd National Games.-PICS. RITU RAJ KONWAR

With the backing of the Central Government, Assam did a wonderful job in hosting the 33rd National Games in Guwahati. The success of the event was underlined by the huge spectator turnout. K. Keerthivasan reports.

Almost the entire country was sceptical about Assam hosting the 33rd National Games, and it was not without reason. Following the threat by ULFA to disrupt the Games, some sportspersons refused to take part in the event citing security reasons. Then there were doubts if Guwahati could conduct an event of such a magnitude involving more than 10,000 athletes in 32 disciplines, especially since Assam, ravaged by floods, was reeling under a severe financial crunch.

However, backed by the Central Government, Assam did a wonderful job in hosting the Games without any major hassle.

Without the people's participation, the event could have easily flopped. The serpentine queues on the first Sunday afternoon (February 11) at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Association Stadium at Sarusajai underlined the massive public support for the Games.

On the day of the football final between Assam and Tamil Nadu, the road to the venue, the Nehru Stadium at Ulubari, was jam-packed with vehicles. Around 20,000 people came to watch the match. The spectators turned out in large numbers even for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.

But is it the best ever Games held, as officials would have us believe? Every State that has hosted the National Games before would like to believe that their show was the best. But considering the problems that the organisers in Guwahati faced, the 33rd National Games can be termed as the best ever.

The one major question posed to the officials of the Games was whether the infrastructure would be put to proper use and not be allowed to decay. The sports administrators have already charted out plans for this. They plan to hold National camps for several disciplines in preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. For this purpose, Assam has sought more funds from the Centre.

Raktim Saikia, secretary of the Assam Tennis Association (ATA), is confident of generating funds for the maintenance and upkeep of the stadium. He is well aware that it is not practically possible to generate money through coaching programmes alone. He and his office-bearers have an idea of opening a swimming pool and a gymnasium and making the Chachal Tennis Complex at Hengerabari a beautiful facility, some sort of a club that would help the ATA generate revenue.

Sixteen venues were built for the National Games. It will be an uphill task to maintain them. However, the sports administrators are confident and aim to make Guwahati the gateway to sport in the North East.

Manipur, which normally does well in contact sport, bagged 51 gold, 32 silver and 40 bronze for a grand total of 123 medals to finish second in the medals tally in Guwahati. According to Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympic Association, Manipur put up a brilliant show at the Games, thanks to the infrastructure it developed during the Imphal Games in 1999. Most of Manipur's gold medals came in archery, boxing, equestrian, fencing, sepak takraw, taekwondo, triathlon, weightlifting and wushu.

A jubliant Assam after defeating Tamil Nadu in the football final.-

Services was the toast of the Games winning 59 gold, 46 silver and 37 bronze to head the medals table. The team did well in equestrian, rowing, canoeing and shooting. Services also won the gold medal in men's hockey and men's basketball.

Host Assam kept its supporters happy by finishing third in the medals tally. It won most of its medals in boxing (13), canoeing (16) and cycling (16). Assam also won the men's gold in football, defeating Tamil Nadu via the tiebreaker 6-5.

The final was a perfect advertisement for the game. Goalkeeper Gobindra Bora stopped a penalty from Tamil Nadu's James Singh that signalled the end of Tamil Nadu's dream run.

Orissa claimed the women's football gold, defeating Manipur via the tiebreaker.

The Haryana men and the Kerala women emerged winners in volleyball, while the former also won the women's hockey gold.

For Tamil Nadu, which finished 14th, it was a reasonably good show under the circumstances. It finished with a haul of 10 gold, 21 silver and 20 bronze medals.

As expected, Tamil Nadu won a handful of medals in table tennis. The icing on the cake came on the final day when Tamil Nadu women claimed the basketball gold.

Table tennis singles winners, K. Shamini of Tamil Nadu and Subhajit Saha of West Bengal, with their gold medals.-

As for individual performances, Divij Sharan deserves a mention. The 20-year-old tennis player from Delhi was a tad disappointed at not getting into the Davis Cup team against Uzbekistan. However, in the National Games, he was fully focussed. His opponents just couldn't match the depth and power of his ground strokes.

Delhi bagged all but one medal in tennis. It won the team (men and women), men's singles and doubles and women's singles titles. The only title it failed to pick up was the women's doubles, which was won by the Karnataka pair of Archana Venkataraman and V. Poojashree.

K. Shamini (Tamil Nadu) and Subhajit Saha (West Bengal) won the singles titles in table tennis, defeating Vishikha Vijoy of Rajasthan and Anirban Nandi of West Bengal respectively.

In badminton, P. Kashyap of Andhra Pradesh defeated National champion and top-seed Chetan Anand (Andhra Pradesh). As expected, Saina Nehwal (Andhra Pradesh) emerged triumphant in the women's section with a straight games win over Aditi Mutatakar of Maharashtra.

AP ruled the roost in badminton with four golds, two silvers and one bronze.

Services' Sanjeev Rajput and Samaresh Jung of Himachal Pradesh emerged top marksmen.

Rehan Poncha and Richa Mishra were adjudged the best athletes in the men's and women' sections.