Bravo, the Games ethic

From its inaugural edition, staged in 1930 under the shadow of the `Great Depression', to its 18th edition in Melbourne, the COMMONWEALTH GAMES has given the world some outstanding sporting moments, polemics, politics and controversies. In the middle of it all, it has strengthened friendships between participating countries, writes S. THYAGARAJAN.

A few years before Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games, the idea of the Commonwealth Games was born to connect the English-speaking population of the British Empire. In 1891, a certain Rev. Ashley Cooper framed a proposal, which he expanded in The Times. It was a suggestion for competitions in rowing and cricket once every four years along the lines of a `Pan-Britannic and Pan-Anglican Sporting Festival'. Four editions of Olympic Games passed before Cooper's idea materialised. The credit for making the dream turn true in Hamilton, Canada, in 1930 should go to Mr. M. M. Robinson, President, Canadian Amateur Athletics Association, and manager of the Canadian contingent to the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928. Like any great idea furthering human understanding and involving the noblest of ideals of sport, the `British Empire Games', as it was christened, spread wings. From 1930 to 1950 the Games were known as the `British Empire Games', then the `British Empire and Commonwealth Games' until 1962. From 1966 to 1974 it was called `British Commonwealth Games' and from 1978 onwards it became Commonwealth Games. The competition strengthened friendship between countries and showcased a cornucopia of extraordinary performances.

Even as the 18th edition of the Games unfolds in Melbourne, it is difficult not to be nostalgic. The inaugural Games, staged in 1930 under the shadow of the `Great Depression', cost $30,000. Around 400 competitors from 11 countries took part in six disciplines. London 1934 triggered a controversy. Originally allotted to South Africa, the Games had to be shifted because of protests over the treatment of black people in the country. Over 500 athletes from 16 countries, including India, participated in the 1934 Games. Women's athletics came on board, as did India's first medal from Rashid Anvar in wrestling (74 Kgs).

The war clouds loomed as Sydney hosted the 1938 Games, which saw the introduction of cycling. It was not easy to keep the Games going. Strains surfaced as more and more countries entered. There have been controversies, polemics, political pressures, doping and a major boycott in 1986. Yet the flame that symbolises the spirit of sport continues to glow. Unforgettable and truly momentous was the sub-four minute `miracle mile' by Roger Bannister at Vancouver in 1954. It eclipsed the fantastic four old medals won in Auckland, 1950 — the first edition of the Games after the Second World War — by the 17-year-old Australian Marjorie Jackson (nicknamed `the Lithgrow flash').

THE RARE DOUBLE of Australian athlete Cathy Freeman (above, displaying her medal after winning the 4X400 metres relay gold in the 2002 Manchester Games) in the 1994 Games in Victoria is an evergreen moment in the history of the Games.-AP

The marvellous 1500-metre run by Filbert Bayi of Kenya in 1974, the clutch of gold medals won by the indefatigable Aussie swimmer, Kieren Perkins, at Victoria 1994, and, of course, the triple decathlon triumph of England's superstar, Daley Thompson, are the other evergreen moments.

With 10 world records being eclipsed, the Cardiff Games in 1958 was unique. It was here that the practice of the Queen's baton relay was first established. The Queen's baton relay carries the message of welcome from Buckingham Palace to all the athletes in the opening ceremony. India won its first athletics gold in Cardiff when Milkha Singh ran a superb 440 yards race clocking 46.71s, thereby setting the tone for his historic run at the Rome Olympics two years later. Wrestler Lilaram joined Milkha in the Gold medal honours. Cardiff saw the exit of apartheid-practising South Africa, which eventually returned to the fold in 1994.

The war with China kept India out at Perth in 1962. The introduction of electronic time and photo-finish camera in Perth added a new dimension. Despite the magic double by the famous Kiwi, Peter Snell, who won the mile and 880 yards, the Aussies regained the top spot with an aggregate of 105 medals.

The word `Empire' was dropped from the Games at Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966. Badminton and shooting replaced lawn bowls and rowing as disciplines. Dinesh Khanna won a bronze in badminton. The African power in athletics symbolised by the immortal Kipchoge Keino, who broke the 12-year record of Roger Bannister with a time of 3:58.8s, emerged in all its majesty.

THE EXCELLENT SHOWING IN THE 2002 Manchester Games by shooters Jaspal Rana and Anjali Bhagwat, who won four gold medals each, confirmed India's growing stature.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

The next edition at Edinburgh was memorable from India's standpoint because of the gold medal won by 17-year-old Ved Prakash in flyweight. He was the youngest to win a gold in the Commonwealth Games, which turned metric in the Scottish capital. India won eight medals (five gold and three silver in wrestling) and Mohinder Singh Gill gained a bronze in triple jump clearing 15.90m. Christchurch in 1974 is remembered for Filbert Bayi's world record run in the 1500 metres, clocking 3:32.16s. M. S. Gill triple-jumped 16.44m for a silver.

At Edmonton, Canada, in 1978, the home team made history, cornering 109 medals (45 golds), powered by a splendid six gold medal haul in aquatics by Graham Smith. Prakash Padukone provided the golden touch, winning the men's singles badminton title while Ami Ghia and Kanwal Thakur Singh claimed bronze medals as did Suresh Babu in long jump (7.84m).

Australia surged back to the top at Brisbane in 1982, the highlight of which was the spectacular marathon run by Robert de Castella. Syed Mody emerged the champion in badminton. A boycott by 32 countries when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to impose sanctions against South Africa punctured the euphoria before the Edinburgh Games in 1986. Here, the hero was England's Daley Thompson.

But the 1990s saw the Games regain its fervour. Auckland 1990 provided world class stuff in athletics, what with stars such as Linford Christie, Marlene Ottey, Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell blazing their way even as the Sidek brothers from Malaysia prevailed in badminton. India won 13 gold medals — 12 in weight-lifting. The only blot was the disqualification of weightlifter Subratakumar Paul for doping.

In 1994, the Games returned to Canada for the fourth time, to Victoria this time, and it featured 63 countries. South Africa was re-admitted. Jaspal Singh Rana and Mansher Singh along with Roopa Unnikrishnan underlined the emergence of India as a shooting powerhouse. Adisekar and Veeraswamy kept up the dominance in weightlifting. With 87 gold medals, Australia was way ahead. Aussie athlete Cathy Freeman, of aboriginal descent, won a rare double (200 and 400 metres) in Victoria.

The ugly side of doping also erupted with Deane Modhal and Paul Edwards testing positive. Horace Dave Edwin of Sierra Leone was stripped of his silver medal. In 1998, Kuala Lumpur was the first Asian country to host the Games. Cricket and hockey were added to the list of disciplines along with netball and rugby, taking the total to 15 sports featuring 70 countries. Australia captured the cricket and hockey golds and finished with a phenomenal tally of 200 medals. Jaspal Rana and Roopa continued to impress in shooting. In badminton, Aparna Popat won a silver and Gopichand a bronze.

Squash, table tennis and triathlon entered the fold at Manchester 2002, where India won the women's gold in hockey. India's medal tally was 69 against the 207 by Australia.

The boxing gold for Qamar Ali, a silver for Neelam J. Singh and bronze medals for Anju George, Aparna Popat and Chetan Baboor, and the excellent showing by shooters Jaspal Rana and Anjali Bhagwat, who won four gold medals each, confirmed India's growing stature.

Five decades after Melbourne played host to the Olympics, the Victorian metropolis comes alive for the 2006 edition. The opening ceremony at the city's historic landmark, the MCG, will orchestrate the tenor of the Games, which includes a new discipline in basketball. A sporting fiesta in a city whose sporting ethos can be described as remarkable is about as good as it gets.

* * * ANJU IS READY

VINO JOHN

Fragile. Handle with care. That was the label Anju George walked around with a few years ago during the early days of her marriage with Robert `Bobby' George. Frequent injuries, long layoffs and hard merciless runways in the country made life very difficult for the athlete. "Keeping Anju away from injury is my biggest challenge. I know if she stays fit, she can do wonders," Bobby, who soon became her coach, said then.

An engineering graduate and a very good triple jumper in his heyday, Bobby slowly began doing research on the science of jumping. He was never short of motivation and was all care and caution for all his experiments were on his favourite subject, his wife. He spoke to coaches, doctors and sports science experts. The triple jump soon went off Anju's menu and slowly she began to toughen up. The rest, as we know, is history.

Anju and Bobby face another big challenge these days. "The competitions are coming very fast. They're very close to each other, there's also the indoor and outdoor factor. There's a lot of pressure adding up is her countrymate Oksana Udmurtova (6.77).

Olympic champion and defending Indoor World champion Tatyana Lebedeva has spoken about concentrating on the triple jump this year while Irina Simagina, who was among the world leaders last year, has stayed away from the circuit after an injury this year. Though her personal best is 6.83m, Anju's best this year is just a 6.32 that helped her win a silver medal at the Indoor Asian meet. "That's not a worry," said Bobby. "That was because of the Pattaya track. I noticed that she was well behind the takeoff board in her jumps. And her jump-lengths were good, around 6.66m. That's a good sign."

Anju won a bronze at the last Commonwealth Games in Manchester, behind Jamaica's Elva Goulborne and England's Jade Johnson. In doing so, she broke India's 24-year-old drought in athletics at the Games. She was ranked 36 in the world then, now she's world No. 4. Sure, the signs are very good.

Stan Rayan each day. And rest and recovery will be crucial things now," said Bobby. "The Commonwealth Games are a major. So, there are a lot of points at stake which will be very crucial for the World Athletics Finals in Monaco this September," said Bobby.

"The IAAF ranking points system works in a 365-day cycle and, unfortunately, Anju's points for her Asian Championship gold in Korea (on September 4, 2005) will go out of the cycle just a couple of days before the World Finals," he explained. The top seven jumpers of the universe automatically qualify for the World Finals and while there is no Asian Championship before Monaco, some of the world's best jumpers will have an extra major in the European Championship, in Sweden this August, to win big points. Which automatically means Anju, a silver medallist at the Monaco World Finals last year, will have to grab the most in the Commonwealth Games.

Russia's Tatyana Kotova now leads the long jump world performance list with 6.91m. Just behind her

Stan Rayan