A new lease of life

On top… Rajinder Singh of Haryana celebrates after securing the javelin gold and setting a National record in the process at the National Games.-PICS: S. MAHINSHA

Though some of the big names were missing at the National Games, there were quite a few fine performances that ensured that the absence of the stars did not take the sheen off the event. By A. Vinod.

The 35th National Games (January 31 to February 14) was noteworthy not only for the fact that records tumbled in a heap, but also the enthusiasm shown by the country’s top athletes. Through 13 days of competitions in 35 disciplines at 29 venues spread across seven districts of Kerala, the athletes put their best foot forward to ensure a fresh lease of life to the Games, which is often seen by its detractors as nothing but an anachronism and an event of wasteful expenditure.

True, a few household names such as P. Kashyap, Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu (badminton), Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt (wrestling), Gagan Narang (shooting), Dipika Pallikal (squash) and a whole lot of top Indian hockey players — who were playing in the Hockey India League — did miss the event. However, some fine performances by the competitors from other disciplines — barring boxing, which continued to suffer because of the spat between the AIBA-recognised Boxing India and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) — ensured that the absence of these stars did not take the sheen off the National Games.

When the IOA had cleared Kerala as the host for the 35th National Games in October 2008, the event was scheduled to be held between May 1 and 16, 2010. However, as the 34th edition of the Games was delayed — it was held only in February 2011 — Kerala gained crucial time. And with the International Olympic Committee banning the IOA in December 2012 because of government interference in its election process, the state had additional time to go about its preparations for the Games.

Winners all... Ankit Sharma (above) (men's long jump), Tintu Luka (below) (women's 800m) and O. P. Jaisha (down) (women's 5000m and 10000m).-

Yet, it was virtually a race against time for the state to complete the work on the new projects that included the Greenfield Stadium in Kariyavattom, which staged the Opening and Closing ceremonies, the shooting range and the squash centre in Thiruvananthapuram, the hockey stadium in Kollam, the indoor stadium in Kannur and more importantly the unique Games Village, built with pre-fabricated material, in the state capital.

The run-up to the National Games was also marred by controversies, which made even the most ardent of supporters of the event in the state nervous. However, once the Games began, all these vanished though charges of corruption kept flying from almost every corner right through the event.

This, however, did not have much impact, as the athletes took the centre stage and the enthusiasts flocked to the stadiums in large numbers each day. Normally not seen as a spectator-sport, shooting had an average crowd of over 3000 a day even as Vijay Kumar, Jitu Rai, P. N. Prakash, Heena Sidhu, Rahi Sarnobat, Ayonika Paul and Elizabeth Susan Koshy finished their events with a flourish.

It was no different at the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar aquatics complex where the likes of Sajan Prakash, Virdhawal Khade, Sandeep Sejwal, Aaron D’Souza, Aakansha Vora, Richa Mishra and Maana Patel won several hearts with their sterling performances and meet records.

There was also great appreciation for squash players Sourav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa, while gymnast Dipa Karmakar mesmerised the crowd with a clean sweep of the individual titles, including the all-around gold medal.

Sourabh Verma and P. C. Thulasi proved their brilliance in badminton, while Anthony Amalraj and K. Shamini captured the men’s and women’s titles in table tennis. The weightlifters and wrestlers from Haryana too attracted attention with their skilful display as they won the majority of the gold medals at stake.

As the focus shifted to athletics in the second week, there was some exciting action on the field with Rajinder Singh (Haryana) winning the gold in the men’s javelin with a National record (82.23m).

Ankit Sharma (Madhya Pradesh) cleared 8.04 metres in long jump, while Dharambir (Haryana) cornered glory in the sprints with a golden double. G. Lakshman (Services Sports Control Board; 13:50.05s) set the meet record in the men’s 5000m.

Sprint double. Dharambir of Haryana wins the men's 200 metres gold, well ahead of the field. Earlier, he also won the men's 100 metres.-

The women’s section was all about the prowess of the Kerala girls with the exception of Dutee Chand (Odisha), who returned to competition after a gap of almost a year with a fine victory in the 100m. Tintu Luka (Kerala) was in total control in the 800m, winning in a meet record time of 2:01.86s. O. P. Jaisha (Kerala) packed power in her strides to win the 5000m and 10000m, while Anilda Thomas (Kerala) claimed the 400m gold.

Lalita Babar (Maharashtra) won the 3000m steeplechase and Gayathri Govindarajan (Tamil Nadu) won the 100m hurdles gold. The race for the Raja Bhalendra Singh Trophy, the symbol of supremacy at the Games, turned out to be a one-horse affair, as the Services SCB won the overall title for the third time in succession with a haul of 91 gold, 33 silver and 35 bronze medals. Kerala (54-48-60) was second, while Haryana (40-40-27) finished third.

* * * DREAM RUN

He was destined to be the star of the 35th National Games. At first, he reluctantly accepted the offer to represent Kerala at the Games. However, for two weeks, Sajan Prakash lived a dream, which had a fairytale ending when he picked up the award for the Individual Champion of the Games.

Sajan Prakash... a fairytale finish.-

Nine medals, six of them gold, was not something Sajan had expected to win at the start of the National Games. The 21-year-old swimmer, based in Bangalore, set six meet records and clocked a careerbest 2:8.15s in 200m butterfly. "My mother was keen on me representing Kerala in the National Games. Since there was no restriction on the number of events like in the Nationals, I wanted to test myself against the best, and in events that were not my forte.

"Moreover, I wanted to win the maximum medals for Kerala. Looking back, I am extremely happy with my performance, especially in the 200m butterfly. The award for the individual champion was the icing on the cake," said Sajan.

The youngster is not the one to rest on his laurels; he is looking forward to competing in the Rio Olympics.

A big surprise

She literally stole the thunder from many of the accomplished swimmers at the Mihir Sen Plaza, the venue of the swimming events at the National Games. While all the focus was on Richa Mishra, making a comeback after a two-year ban for a doping violation, it was Aakansha Vora who drew immense praise for her performance.

Richa, competing for Madhya Pradesh though she is from Delhi, was eyeing a bounty at the National Games. However, it was not to be, as Aakanksha comprehensively beat Richa to win the gold in the 400m freestyle (4: 32.50s), 800m freestyle (9:15.30s) and 1500m freestyle (17:42.44s) - all with meet records. Interestingly, all the records the Maharashtra swimmer rewrote were that of Richa.

Richa sparkled in the 400m individual medley with a meet record (5:07.15s), pushing Aakanksha to second place. Aakanksha, however, anchored Maharashtra to victory in the two relays, taking her gold tally to five. Consequently, she was chosen for the individual champion's award at the end of the Games.

Green Games

The Games Village, constructed in Meenakulam, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, was unique. Spread over 31 acres of land leased from the SIDCO, the Games Village housed around 400-odd dwelling units that were built with the help of pre-fabricated housing technology rather than brick and mortar. The total cost of constructing the dwelling units was around Rs. 60 crore, a fraction of the cost that the government would have incurred had it gone for a full-sized construction.

Aakanksha Vora... stealing the thunder.-

The idea of using pre-fabricated housing technology was to drive home the concept of Green Games, as it was environmental friendly, lightweight, energy efficient and faster to construct. One major advantage of this technology is that the individual housing units can be dismantled and re-constructed at other locations. A dwelling unit can accommodate up to six persons.

The Games Village had a community kitchen, food courts, reception desks, medical centre, recreational zone, health club, open-air theatre and conference halls. Around 5000 athletes and officials had a comfortable stay at the Village during the course of the event.

M. R. Praveen Chandran