Do the SAF medals signify anything for the Olympics?

INDIAN sports looked healthy when the second string athletes collected 191 medals, including 101 gold, from the SAF Games in Islamabad.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

INDIAN sports looked healthy when the second string athletes collected 191 medals, including 101 gold, from the SAF Games in Islamabad. It did provide a good image of the country that despite the absence of the Olympic qualified athletes, shooters and other prominent sportspersons in various other disciplines, the emerging Indian talent was able to assert itself in the regional competition, in which India's supremacy has rarely been questioned in nine editions.

Mahesh Bhupathi (left) and Leander Paes stand a good chance to win as a pair in the Olympics. -- Pic. AP-

In the Olympic year, if we try to draw some conclusions as to what the Indian contingent can do in Athens, from the indications provided in the SAF Games, we may be led astray. For the 1157 medals, including 589 golds, in the earlier eight editions have not done anything to boost the chances of the country, vis-a-vis the Olympics, as only three individual bronze medals have been won by independent India in the most prestigious sporting meet.

The Indian swimmers had the richest haul in Islamabad, but a couple of Indian swimmers who may eventually make the trip to Athens, will do well to win their heats. That is the difference between us and the world standards.

The shooters had done very well in the SAF Games to come up with the second best collection of medals, and Jaspal Rana emerged the most successful once again with seven gold and one silver medal. But the fact is that Jaspal hopes to have a wild card entry for the Olympics. The other eight Olympic qualified shooters, Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat, Suma Shirur, Deepali Deshpande, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Mansher Singh and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, have been tuning themselves in World Cups, with contrasting fare.

The fact that Anjali's two gold, three silver and a bronze in the World Cups and World Cup Finals in the last couple of years do not assure her of a medal in the Olympics, as there are quite a few who are shooting world records in every other competition and shooting consistently well in the meets that matter. One can imagine the plight of people who tend to dream about Olympic medals after winning the gold in the SAF Games.

Kunjarani Devi can set the record straight this time if she retains her form. -- Pic. AFP-

The Indian shooters have won World Championship medals as in the case of Rathore; have achieved world records as in the case of Suma Shirur who shot a perfect 400 out of 400 in winning the gold in the Asian Championship, and have also won a clutch of medals in World Cup apart from the Asian Championships. All this is something, and the Olympic medal is really something else.

The Indian athletics provided a decent fare in the SAF Games, though only S. Geetha managed to achieve the Olympic qualifying time, with a 52.25 in the 400 metres. The situation is that Geetha may not be sent for Athens unless they are able to put together a relay team that makes the grade.

In the last Olympics in Sydney, it was K. M. Beenamol who made the Indian athletes feel proud by making it to the semifinals of the 400 metres. However, after the Asian Games in Busan where she had a successful outing to the extent that she was presented the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award jointly with Anjali Bhagwat, Beenamol has hardly run at any level because of recurring injuries.

Anju Bobby George carries a lot of hopes in athletics. -- Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

Quite understandably, the only athlete whom everyone has been pinning hopes on, has been the long jumper Anju Bobby George who had won the World Championship bronze in Paris with a 6.70 last year. Anju jumped 6.66 metres recently in the national circuit meet in Delhi to start the season, as against her own national record of 6.74, set about two years ago.

If an athlete of Anju's calibre, with Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medals to her credit, apart from training stints with the world record holder Mike Powell, has not been able to push beyond the national record in pursuit of a rare Olympic medal in Indian athletics, one can well imagine the futility of hoping the rest to perform a miracle and conjure up an Olympic medal.

Leander Paes won the bronze in tennis in 1996 in Atlanta and Karnam Malleswari won the bronze in women's weightlifting in 2000 in Sydney.

Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat has been in pretty good form in the last few seasons and may try to make the dream a reality. — Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

Once again, India may have to hope that these two disciplines would be able to provide the medals. There is no doubt that Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have as good a chance to win the gold as any other pair in the tennis world, if they remain healthy.

India possibly missed another medal by leaving behind Kunjarani Devi during the Sydney Olympics. The fact that only two slots had been won meant that Karnam Malleswari and Sanamacha Chanu were preferred, at the expense of the most seasoned Indian lifter. If she retains her form, there is no reason as to why Kunjarani cannot set the record straight this time.

Quite mercifully, the Indian women weightlifters have won four quota places for themselves this time, and thus internal politics may not be able to keep the key lifters away.

Maj. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who has qualified for the Olympics, should do well on the strength of his performances in the World Cup and World championships. -- Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

Of course, the Indian shooters have done far too well at every stage in the last four years, though it was a disappointment that they could win only two team silver medals in the last Asian Games in Busan. As against one in the last edition, eight have qualified this time for the Olympics, which only goes to emphasise the growing stature of the Indian shooters.

It will be the icing on the cake if the Indian shooters can deliver an Olympic medal. Shooting is as competitive as athletics, swimming or gymnastics at the Olympic level, and it will require a supreme effort from among the eight to pin that elusive medal. Quite hopefully, that medal may be better than a bronze.

There are wrestlers, the boxers and quite a few others who would be lining up to Athens in due course of time, to make for an impressive number.

Indian swimmers led by Richa Mishra (second from left) had a rich haul in the SAF Games. If they qualify, Athens will be a different ball game. -- Pic. PTI-

Without sounding greedy, one can demand two medals from the Olympics this time, which if achieved would be a 100 per cent improvement on our previous record. If the medals can be of better hue, the joy would be that much more.

The medals have to come from tennis, shooting, athletics and weightlifting, and anything else would be a huge bonus.

If it is quantity at the SAF Games, it will be supreme quality at the Olympics. We are ever ready for the SAF Games. Are we ready to deliver at this Olympics? Maybe we are just about getting ready this time. There is still a lot of time left to ponder about the possible medals. There may be quite a few, especially the authorities and the coaches, who would be able to count quite a few medals from the Olympics till the sporting extravaganza begins. We will wait and watch.