India makes amends

Katulu Ravi Kumar... gold in the 69 kg class. He also broke the Games (clean & jerk) and Commonwealth (snatch) records.-K. ANANTHAN Katulu Ravi Kumar... gold in the 69 kg class. He also broke the Games (clean & jerk) and Commonwealth (snatch) records.

Penalised heavily for drug related issues, the Indian Weightlifting Federation managed to pay the hefty fine in time to enter the Games. And at the Games, the loss of a gold medal in the opening event — women's 48 kg — did not prove a dampener as the Indian weightlifters, despite not participating in four categories, performed fairly well to finish among the top three. S. Sabanayakan reports.

India's performance in weightlifting, where it won eight medals including two gold, cannot be considered a standout one by any stretch of imagination. Yet, the drug-free showing meant the medal haul was genuine, and it, in a way, helped resurrect the image of Indian weightlifting to some extent considering the problems that the sport was mired in, in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games.

Penalised heavily for drug related issues, the Indian Weightlifting Federation managed to pay the hefty fine in time to enter the Games. And at the Games, the loss of a gold medal in the opening event (women's 48 kg) did not prove a dampener as the Indian weightlifters, despite not participating in four categories — two each in the men's and women's sections — performed fairly well to finish among the top three.

After having won nine medals, including three golds in Melbourne four years ago, India missed the Asian Games in Doha in 2006 following a 12-month ban imposed on the Indian Weightlifting Federation after four of its lifter had tested positive within a year. And just before the Delhi CWG, Sanamacha Chanu failed a drug test which shattered the Indian lifters and the federation.

Against this background, the National coach, Harnam Singh, made a modest projection of 10 to 12 medals, including three golds, for India. The host finished with two gold, two silver and four bronze medals, and more importantly its lifters had a clean record.

The coach also warned about Nigeria doing well and finishing ahead of the host since India was returning to international competition after two years. His words came true as the African nation won five gold medals including two from Para sport.

Doing India proud... Yumnam Renu Bala Chanu on way to setting the Commonwealth Games record in the women's 58 kg snatch.-AP

The Indian women lost the plot on the first day when what should have been a gold-silver finish turned out to be a silver-bronze performance as Ng. Soniya Chanu and A. Sandhya Rani Devi were beaten by the 18-year-old Nigerian sensation, Augustina Nkem Nwaokolo, in the 48 kg class. Nwaokolo, incidentally, won the first gold medal of the Games.

On the opening day, Sukhen Dey and V. S. Rao won the silver and bronze in the men's 56 kg to open India's account. The host had a terrible second day when medal hopes Swati Singh (53 kg), Rustam Sarang and Omkar Shekhar Otari (both 62 kg) came a cropper in their events. Swati was injured — he finished fourth — while Rustam and Omkar surrendered without a fight. Malaysia finished 1-2 in the event which surprised even its coach.

However, Katulu Ravi Kumar (men's 69 kg) and Yumnam Renu Bala Chanu (women's 58 kg) lifted the Indian spirits with gold medals. Ravi Kumar, 22, an army havildar, broke the Commonwealth record in snatch and the Games' mark in clean and jerk. Renu Bala improved upon the Games' snatch record with aplomb.

Thereafter, lesser-known countries like Samoa and Nauru joined Nigeria, Australia and Canada to dominate the heavier weight groups. Interestingly the tiny pacific island nation, Samoa, won three gold medals thanks to the Opeloge family, especially Ele, who competed in the 75+kg class for women and improved upon the Games' and Commonwealth records with effortless ease. Earlier, Faavae Faauliuli won the men's 94 kg class, giving Samoa its first gold medal in any discipline in the international arena.

Yukio Peter of Nauru won his country's 10th gold medal in international events — all of them in weightlifting — with a performance that was hard to match by his competitors. Cameroon-born Simplice Ribouem won Australia's first gold medal of the Games in the men's 85 kg while compatriot Damon Kelly emerged the ‘Strongest Man' of the event by winning the 105+kg class. His effort pushed Nauru's red hot favourite Itte Detenamo to second position. Though both lifted a whooping 397 kg, Kelly's lighter body weight clinched the issue.

Since Karnam Malleshwari gave India a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics, there has been no significant improvement in Indian weightlifting. It is time institutions like the Indian Railways and states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra redraw their priorities to produce weightlifters of class. The resurrection of Indian weightlifting lies in better planning and execution without any favouritism.