Easily the best

Jaspal Rana with a tally of eight medals proved that the urge to excel is still strong in him. — Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

IT was as good a SAF Games as India could have hoped for.

IT was as good a SAF Games as India could have hoped for. Literally, it was the second string of Indian sportspersons who were vying for top honours in the absence of the cream, that was busy preparing for the Olympic Games. In the event, the Indian contingent had many a success story to relate.

One had hoped that India would end up with 200 medals, and the target was missed rather narrowly. As usual, more than half of those 191 medals won this time were gold.

It was indeed an enchanting experience to hear the Indian national anthem played repeatedly in Pakistan. Every time the song ended the Indian swimmers used to shout, `Jai Hind' in unison. The swimmers stole the show with the maximum haul, followed by the shooters and the athletes.

Except for football, boxing, squash and to some extent weightlifting and rowing, the Pakistanis were unable to live up to their cheering, Jeetega bhai jeetega, Pakistan jeetega, that often echoed at various venues.

It was difficult to select the ten best sportspersons for their deeds in Islamabad, for there were so many who deserved to figure in the list.

Yet, it may be difficult for the rest to question the choice of the ten — Jaspal Rana, Richa Mishra, Susanthika Jayasinghe, Ronak Pandit, M. Sangeetha, Yejju Subba Rao, Satish Rai, T. A. Sujith, Piyush Kumar and Zoravar Singh Sandhu.

Read them in whichever order you like, for each one of them is a No.1 in his or her own right.

Jaspal Rana: The ace shooter was easily the best sportsman of the ninth SAF Games, as he collected seven gold and a silver medal. It was not the best of Games for Jaspal, as he had dominated the last two editions in Kathmandu and Chennai with eight gold medals each.

Yet, it was an admirable effort by the 27-year-old Uttaranchal lad who was even tipped to get a ticket for the elections, to have kept the competitors at a distance with his immense talent, once again. Jaspal won the centrefire pistol and rapidfire pistol gold medals with comfortable margins, and edged out compatriot Samaresh Jung by one point in the standard pistol event, losing only the air pistol gold to the 19-year-old Ronak Pandit.

Though he had shot a 579 out of 600 in the World Championship in Barcelona, Jaspal had not practiced rapidfire pistol for years. Thus, he focussed on the event, as he did not want to let the team down. Three days of practice saw him beating the field and helping himself to the gold, ahead of the specialists like Bhanwar Lal Dhaka who had won two gold and a silver in the same event in the previous editions.

In the process, Jaspal had sacrificed his practice for air pistol, and thus it was no surprise that the young Ronak, who had won a clutch of gold medals in the junior section of the last Asian Championship, provided a rare defeat for Jaspal.

The manner in which Jaspal held his nerves in the 10-second series, after having been on par with Samaresh in the 15-second and 20-second series earlier, in the standard pistol event on the concluding day, was a testimony to the fact that the urge to excel is still strong in him. Jaspal won the only individual gold medal in the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994.

"It is a pleasure to win these medals. The competition is increasing, and the standards are going up'', said Jaspal, quite satisfied with his collection.

The loss of one gold medal did not upset Jaspal much, as he said that he "cannot be the master of all, and that he did not want to be known as the jack of all, as well".

It is indeed a fabulous record that Jaspal holds in the SAF Games, but the young man may have to sacrifice the glory in the lower echelons of the sport, if he wants to make his mark in the Olympics and the World Championships.

It is difficult for Jaspal to channelise his energies and focus them on shooting alone, as he has a lot of social commitments.

He may not yet be able to promise an Olympic medal, as he does not even get to qualify for it, but it is indeed a pleasure to watch Jaspal shoot down all those medals in the other international competitions with a fair degree of assurance. — Kamesh Srinivasan