A lot more needs to be done

INDIA had won only three individual bronze medals since independence. The eight-time Olympic champion had not won a hockey medal, since the gold in Moscow in 1980.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

INDIA had won only three individual bronze medals since independence. The eight-time Olympic champion had not won a hockey medal, since the gold in Moscow in 1980. Weighing various aspects, one had come to the conclusion that one medal would come from shooting and another from tennis. The rest, including the projection of Anju George, was more a case of hoping against hope. But ultimately, the country ended up with a solitary silver.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore made the best use of the resources and retained a strong focus in landing the biggest individual prize for India, a silver medal in double trap shooting, in the Athens Olympics. — Pic. AP-

Let us make an attempt to put things in perspective and weigh the performance of the Indian athletes in the Olympics dispassionately and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10.

Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore: He was easily the hero of the 140-member contingent that had 65 officials. He had prepared hard and systematically. Had the best guidance and support. He made the best use of the resources and retained a strong focus in landing the biggest prize. He had won the World Championship bronze in Nicosia last year with a 189, in ascertaining his strength of character to deliver the goods on the world stage. He was 10 points behind the gold medallist, Ahmed Almaktoum, whom he had beaten a few weeks earlier in the Czech Republic. Rathore had shown his class in winning the World Cup in Sydney earlier in the season, with a 189, an eight-point margin over world-record holder and former world champion Daniele Di Spigno of Italy. He had shot a 191 in winning the gold in a highly competitive field in the Commonwealth Games in 2002. He returned only a 179 in Athens, but shot his best under tremendous pressure in the final. He deserves an eight.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi: For the sheer weight of their achievements over the years, and their superb form just before the start of the Games, the pair had looked ready for the tennis gold. It was morale-boosting and heart-warming the way in which Leander and Mahesh handled the challenge, first from Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish of the U. S. and then from Roger Federer and Yves Allegro of Switzerland in making smooth progress. They were the only seeded team to figure in the semifinals on beating Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett. The world looked under their feet, but they slipped in the next round against Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany. Worse, they failed to drive home the initial advantage and lost to Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic 14-16 in the third set in three hours and 58 minutes. The Croats played a superb match, but was it not destiny that denied a medal for Leander and Mahesh? No doubt, they are one of the best teams in the Open era. They may not have won a medal, but Leander and Mahesh deserve a seven.

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes not winning a medal was a great disappointment for the Indian fans. But the pair did not lose meekly in the tennis doubles competition. — Pic. AFP-

Abhinav Bindra: The 22-year-old Chandigarh lad has already competed in two Olympics. It was a tremendous effort by him to be No. 3 with a 597 at the end of the preliminary phase in the 10m air rifle. He had shot 57 perfect ones out of 60, and looked ready for the final assault at a medal. It was not to be, as he was strangely flat in the final, in which he had the bronze on hand till the end of the first four shots. He has shot around the world, against the best in business, and is rated high by his peers. Yet, it was a mystery, to Abhinav himself, as to how he was not able to make use of the solid platform that he had so painstakingly built for himself. During the press conference, after his silver winning feat, Rathore said that Abhinav would be a world champion one day. There is no reason to doubt that observation. If he sticks to the sport as intensely as he has been in the last few years, Abhinav will definitely win many laurels. He gets six.

Anju George: She finished sixth with her longest competitive jump of 6.83 metres, no mean achievement by any yardstick. The only problem was that the whole country had believed that Anju would get a medal in Athens. For, she was the only Indian athlete in history to win a World championship medal. She had accomplished that task in Paris last year. Wind-aided efforts of 6.82 and 6.83 recently had given an indication of what she could do, but the experts knew that Anju would need a minimum seven-metre jump to be in contention for a medal. She trained hard and prepared well with her husband, but without a world-class coach to take her forward, the way World and Olympic champion Russell Mark had done for Rathore, Anju failed against a strong field, especially the Russian girls who swept the medals. She gets a 5.5.

Suma Shirur: One of the rare Indians to hold a world record, albeit jointly with a few others. The air rifle shooter deserves all the praise for overcoming a bad start when she had missed three points in the first 13 shots, in eventually making the final with a 396 out of 400. She could not fight much and ended up eighth. To make the final in a field in which at least 10 were capable of taking the gold was a great achievement. It was more a relief to be in the final for Suma, after the struggle in the preliminary phase. For her courage, more than anything else, Suma gets a five.

Abhinav Bindra's failure in the 10m air rifle event will rankle him for quite sometime. The Chandigarh lad, who faltered in the final, is rated high by his peers. -- Pic. VINO JOHN-

Kunjarani Devi: Indian weightlifting may have been caught in a doping cloud. But, make no mistake, Kunjarani Devi deserved an Olympic medal. She had worked single-mindedly in her pursuit of that goal, after having won dozens of medals in the World championships. She lifted the best total of her career, a 190 kg in the 48 kg class in Athens, but her effort was 10 kg short of a medal. It is indeed nice to come up with her best in the Olympic Games. She set a fine example. We can never really rate her contribution to Indian weightlifting, but for Athens she gets a 4.5.

Women's 4 x 400-metre relay team: The quartret of S. Geetha, K. M. Beenamol, Chitra Soman and Rajwinder Kaur finished seventh, a good effort, particularly the national record of 3:26.89 during the qualification. Being in Olympic final is indeed an encouraging sign. The team may perhaps deserve more, but we give it only a 4.5.

K. M. Binu: Better known as the brother of K. M. Beenamol, Binu asserted his own identity by making the semifinals of the 400-metre event, and breaking the national record. Did he give of his best in the semifinals. Daley Thompson, one of the finest decathletes of all time, did not feel so as he observed the lad after his semifinal race. That may be pure inexperience, or lack of proper advice. Maybe, he miscalculated the whole race and was thus still left standing, satisfied, when the rest lay on the ground overcome by the exhaustion as they had spent every ounce of their energy. He gets a four.

Hockey team: The team is a favourite with every Indian fan, for sentimental reasons. The eight-time champion, however, has not been able to enthuse the millions of fans with its performance. Of course, some of the matches that India lost were pretty close. But that is the way sports is. It is the defeat that is remembered, not how closely you had fought. With better planning and execution, the Indian team could have done better, but mistakes had been made at every stage, including the sacking of the chief coach on the final phase before the Olympics. You cannot compromise with quality preparation at every step and hope to get the best results. It was a face-saving exercise that the team retained its seventh position. It does not deserve anything more than a four.

Gagan Narang: The young air rifle shooter fought bravely, after an eight in one of the series, a shot that can shatter the confidence of the best. He eventually missed the final by one point, but the Afro-Asian champion who had made it to the finals of two World Cups this season including the one in Athens, showed that there is someone running close to Abhinav Bindra ready to share the burden of expectations. For his fighting performance, the cherubic Andhra lad gets a four.

Anju George, bronze medallist in the World athletics championship, gave a glimmer of hope before Athens. But the Indian ace jumper could finish only sixth in the long jump final. — Pic AFP-

Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat: Few in the Indian contingent had promised to deliver an Olympic medal as this Mumbai lady had done with her consistently good fare on the world stage. On the day of reckoning, her challenge misfired because of a bad start. The first two shots were 9 and she just could not get things going her way. A 96 in the first series shook her so badly that the 34-year-old Anjali lost the will to fight. If it can happen to Michael Diamond, the two-time Olympic champion, it can happen to anyone. It will be a long wait for four more years. She gets a 3.5.

J. J. Shobha: The heptathlete could have done a lot better but for her hamstring injury. It was sheer courage on her part to have completed her event, with that strong finish in the 800 metres when she could have taken the easy way out like a few others in the Indian team. She took the 11th spot eventually, but set a fine example of how a person should forget everything and just go for it in the Olympics. For, you do not get a second chance so easily. She deserves more but gets a 3.5.

We do not attempt to rate the rest, including the archers and a couple of badminton players, who had a decent fare, to avoid the embarrassment for them. A lot more needs to be done, for the Indian sportsperson to be able to give his or her best in the Olympics. The passion for excellence is something that the Indian sports person needs to stoke from inside. Without that, all the support cannot take you anywhere. The hungry will get their food, for sure. Quite alarmingly, many are quite content just to make it to the Olympics. Where is the question of them meeting with success?