Future looks bright

Somdev Devvarman gets emotional on the podium after winning the men's tennis singles gold.-PTI

India's performance in Guangzhou pales in comparison with China (416 medals, including 199 gold and 119 silver), but by winning 64 medals in a variety of events with varying degrees of success, the nation has proved that it is headed in the right direction for the 2012 London Olympics. Kamesh Srinivasan reports.

Though India celebrated its 14-gold haul in the Asian Games in Guangzhou, it still cannot compete with the top sporting nations of the world straightaway. And it has been acknowledged that the world's biggest democracy without a sporting culture is still taking baby steps forward. The progress has been encouraging, and the future looks bright.

India's performance in Guangzhou pales in comparison with China which collected 416 medals including 199 gold and 119 silver, but by winning 64 medals in a variety of events — archery, athletics, billiards, boxing, chess, golf, gymnastics, hockey, kabaddi, roller sports, rowing, sailing, shooting, squash, swimming, tennis, wrestling and wushu — with varying degrees of success, the nation has proved that it is headed in the right direction for the 2012 London Olympics.

After winning solitary bronze medals through Leander Paes and Karnam Malleswari in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics respectively and a silver through Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore at the 2004 Games, India made a marked improvement in Beijing in 2008, claiming one gold and two bronze medals. Boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar joined gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra to project a positive image of Indian sports.

While Sushil graduated to become a world champion — he, however, could not compete in the Asian Games owing to an injury — World No. 1 Vijender showed his class in outplaying the two-time World champion, Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan, 7-0 in the final of the Asian Games.

For someone who had to stomach the disappointment of losing his semifinal bout in the Commonwealth Games on a technicality only a month earlier in front of his adoring fans at home and who was thought to have been lost to the glamour world of modelling, Vijender showed that his focus was still on boxing. In an exhibition of high quality boxing he did not allow his opponent to throw even a single punch at him. In fact, none of the five judges gave Atoev even a single point in the nine-minute 75kg final spread over three rounds.

Vikas Krishan, 18, with a strong defence and a stout heart, won the first gold for Indian boxing since Dingko Singh had won one in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. Indian boxing is truly bouncing with energy.

There were nine medals in all from the 13 boxers. Five-time world champion Mary Kom could not match two-time world champion Ren Cancan of China in the semifinals and had to settle for the bronze, as she was fighting in the 51kg category for the first time.

There were silver medals from V. Santhosh Kumar, Dinesh Kumar and Manpreet Singh, apart from bronze medals from Suranjoy Singh, Paramjeet Samota and Kavita Goyat.

The Indian shooters, however, disappointed as they could not achieve their best scores. In a season where they had to compete in the World Championship, four World Cups, the Commonwealth Championship, the Commonwealth Games, apart from the World Cup Finals in some cases, it was difficult for the shooters to strike peak form at the fag end of the season.

Yet, double trap marksman Ronjan Sodhi showed how one could achieve that as he stayed focused on his training even after the two silver medals in the Commonwealth Games, avoiding all distractions in terms of celebrations. He got past the two Chinese, Pan Qiang and Mo Junjie, after having trailed them by four points before the final, for a memorable finish.

In a season of high scores, when he was touching the world record even when he was reduced to shooting in the MQS section and not in main stream owing to selection anomalies, Sodhi, 31, was a class act as he won by four points.

Sodhi, who joined Randhir Singh and Jaspal Rana as the only Indian individual gold medallists in shooting in Asian Games history, emphasised that his business would be complete only after he achieves his goal of winning a medal in the London Olympics.

Gagan Narang strove hard in three events and at one stage had the individual gold in air rifle within his grasp before Zhu Qinan (China) went on to take the gold. The Indian air rifle team also missed the gold by one point as Abhinav Bindra had to endure a mysterious ‘7'. There was another ‘7' from Heena Sidhu in the women's air pistol event that perhaps cost the team the gold. However, it has to be admitted that both Abhinav (593) and Heena (381) showed great character in overcoming the odds to shoot respectable scores that fetched the Indian team silver medals.

Vijay Kumar, a specialist rapid fire pistol shooter who had won a bronze in 2006, took part in the air pistol and centre-fire pistol and ended up winning a bronze in each of them to bolster the team's collection.

World champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu missed the individual trap bronze in the shoot-off, but as a team with Mansher Singh and Zorawar Singh Sandhu picked up the bronze. The crack combination of Sodhi, world junior champion Asher Noria and Vikram Bhatnagar also had to be content with the bronze in double trap.

After winning 14 gold medals in the Commonwealth Games, it was an anti-climax for Indian shooting, which failed to match the three gold medals won by Jaspal Rana in the last Asian Games. On the positive side, the performances in the Olympic events should augur well for the future.

Bajrang Lal Takhar, who captured the country's first gold medal in rowing, in the men's single sculls event, deserves all praise. Four years of sheer hard work and systematic planning saw the 29-year-old from Rajputana Rifles graduate from silver in the last edition to gold in Guangzhou. Of course, it was one of the four events (out of the 14) that China did not compete in, owing to the rules that allow a country to field rowers only in 10 events. However, the two-time Asian champion, Bajrang Lal, was a worthy winner as he beat the field from start to finish even though he was in an old vessel.

Ronjan Singh Sodhi's gold saved India the blushes in shooting.-AP

Indian rowing looked in great health with more medals: three silvers (Men's Eight, Men's Four and Lightweight Men's Four) from a bunch of committed young men, Saji Thomas, Jenil Krishnan, Anil Kumar, Ranjit Singh, Lokesh Kumar, Satish Joshi, Rajesh Kumar Yadav, Manjeet Singh and Girraj Singh, and a surprise bronze in the women's pairs (Pramila Minz and Pratima Puhana).

Somdev Devvarman was the only individual gold medallist from the recent Commonwealth Games to repeat his performance in Asian Games tennis. In fact, he finished with two gold medals in Guangzhou apart from the bronze in the team event. Except for one bad set in the men's singles semifinals against Tatsuma Ito (Japan) the Indian Davis Cup player looked in total control. Having broken into the Top 100 this season, his performance in the Asian Games is a big boost to his career.

Devvarman, 24, was at his best in the final. He tamed the 40th ranked Denis Istomin (Uzbekistan) 6-1, 6-2. In the doubles final, he along with Sanam Singh prevailed over the second-seeded Chinese, Gong Maoxin and Li Zhe, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 1-8.

Sania Mirza was equally brilliant though she was unable to put it past Akgul Amanmuradova (Uzbekistan) in the women's singles semifinals. It was a gut-wrenching contest that lasted nearly three hours and Sania lost 7-6 (7), 3-6, 4-6 to the Uzbek whom she had beaten in all their four previous meetings.

The mixed doubles gold appeared to be within the grasp of Sania and Vishnu Vardhan, but the Indian duo went down 4-6, 6-1, 10-12 to Yung Jan Chan and Tsung Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei. It was the sixth Asian Games medal for the 24-year-old Sania, who had won the individual silver and the mixed doubles gold last time apart from piloting the women's team to the silver medal.

The two gold medals in kabaddi had been taken for granted even before the competition began. The Indian women, however, had to wage a close battle against Iran in the semifinals before winning by a point in extra time. Competing in kabaddi for the first time, the Indian women went on to win the gold, but the signs were clear that the rest of Asia would catch up soon. The Indian men, on the other hand, dominated right through to win its sixth consecutive gold medal in the Asian Games. However, there was a change of equation as Iran beat Pakistan to make the final.

Pankaj Advani brought India its first gold medal of the Games, winning the billiards title. By beating Oo Oo Nay Thway (Myanmar) 33-100, 100-61, 12-101, 101-4, 100-45 in the final, he became India's only individual champion from the last edition of the Games to repeat his feat in Guangzhou. However, Advani, 25, a world champion in both billiards and snooker, was stopped in the snooker quarterfinals by Ding Junhui of China.

The Indian men's snooker team did well to bag the silver, while Aditya Mehta picked up the individual snooker bronze. Alok Kumar won the 8-ball pool bronze.

Tarundeep Rai's silver medal in men's archery was commendable and it showed that India has been bridging the gap with Korea. Though stopped by the Koreans in the semifinals of the men's and women's team events, India showed its efficiency by ensuring the bronze medals. It was of course disappointing that the young Deepika Kumari failed to win the individual bronze.

Virdhawal Khade was a joy to behold as he emphasised his growing stature by winning the bronze in the men's 50m butterfly. This was India's first medal in swimming since Khazan Singh won the silver in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games.

Ashish Kumar, who had won the first medals for India in gymnastics — a silver and bronze — in the Commonwealth Games, made further progress to land the nation's first gymnastics medal in the Asian Games, a bronze in the floor exercise.

The Indian men won the silver medal in golf, thanks to the good work of Rashid Khan, while the sailors brought home the silver in open match racing. India also won the wushu silver (Sandhyarani Devi) and bronze (Bimoljit Singh).

There were bronze medals in chess, including the individual medal for Dronavalli Harika. Wrestlers Ravinder Singh, Sunil Kumar Rana and Mausam Khatri won a bronze each.

In squash, Saurav Ghosal won the individual bronze; so did India in the men's and women's team events. The nation also won bronze medals in roller sports through Anup Kumar Yama and Avani Panchal.

The biggest shock for India was World No. 3 Saina Nehwal failing to get past the quarterfinal stage in badminton.