Kunjarani shows the way

AP

It all began with the one big lift by Namecrakpam Kunjarani Devi at the 18th Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. The 38-year-old Manipuri brought the first gold medal for India by winning the women's 48kg category in weightlifting. And taking a c ue from the weightlifter was the Indian shooting contingent that has worked hard over several months. With a rich haul of five gold and one silver (as on March 18), the Indian shooters have proved to the world that they are of international class. For India, the medal hunt at the Games is truly on.

HEAD START

Kunjarani Devi fired the hopes of the nation by retaining her crown in the women's 48kg. The bespectacled weightlifter kept the Indian tricolour fluttering high by lifting a total of 166kg.

She lifted 72kg in snatch and 94kg in clean-and-jerk, which were good enough for the gold though she missed re-writing her Games record of 167kg — 75kg in snatch and 92kg in clean-and-jerk.

There was more cheer for India as Renu Bala Yumnan Chanu won the nation's second gold in weightlifting, in the women's 58kg category. But Arun Murugesan missed the gold in the men's 62kg category by a whisker.

Kunjarani, a Deputy Superintendent with the Central Reserve Police Force, later said, "I am very happy that I won the first gold of the Games for my country."

Party at Batta's home

When Vicky Batta, 25, clinched the silver medal in the 56kg category in weightlifting, there were celebrations in his hometown. At Khanna, a renowned grain market in Punjab, celebrations took place in full swing as the news of Batta's victory reached home. Sweets were distributed at the weightlifter's residence. The sweets were packed by his relatives, friends and well-wishers who wanted to congratulate the family.

"Earlier also he had won medals but we are very happy that he has won this one. Our friends and relatives have joined in the celebrations and are coming to our house to congratulate us," Batta's proud father Ashwini Kumar said.

"We are very happy. It is a great honour for Khanna, Punjab and India that he won a silver medal. We are very proud of his achievements," Batta's childhood friend Kamaljit said.

Batta had won a bronze medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

* * * INDIAN SHOOTERS SPOT ON

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Besides the weightlifters, India's shooters too are basking in glory. Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang won the gold medal in the men's 10m air rifle pairs, shattering the existing Games record by five points. Tejaswini Sawant and Avneet Kaur Sidhu won the silver with an aggregate of 791 in the women's 10m air rifle pairs event.

Samresh Jung and Vivek Singh bagged the silver in the 50m pistol pairs, while Saroja Kumari Jhuthu and Sushma Rana won the gold in the women's 50m air pistol.

Finishing matters

A year ago, three triathletes in the Solomon Islands couldn't swim properly. Today, they completed the Commonwealth Games championship course, albeit in the last three places. Stanley Ofasasili, Wilfred Bosa and Marcus Farau were trained by Ross Andrewartha, an Australian expatriate who volunteered to coach them.

"The islanders are naturally great in the water and they'll never drown, but they couldn't swim," Andrewartha said.

Conditions in Melbourne were in stark contrast to the Solomons, where the three run barefoot over gravel roads, ride decades-old bikes and swim in the ocean on a course marked out by beach balls wrapped in orange-coloured plastic. At the Games, cheered on by the crowd, Ofasasili finished 30th in the 32-man event, almost 39 minutes behind champion Bradley Kahlefeldt of Australia, who clocked 1 hour, 29 minutes 16.33 seconds. After crossing the line, Ofasasili hugged Andrewartha and exclaimed, "I finished!" Farau finished 31st and Bosa was last in 2:36:15.71.

* * * YOUNGEST PADDLER?

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Vanuatu's Yoshua Shing is a boy among men at the Commonwealth Games. The 12-year-old table tennis player is believed to be the youngest-ever competitor at the Games, first held in 1930, though officials said they were still scouring the history books to confirm it. Shing, just 150 centimetres tall and weighing 50kgs, has risen to the top in Vanuatu, a tiny Pacific Island nation of about 206,000 people.

Vanuatu, lying about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, has only four table tennis tables, Melbourne's Herald-Sun newspaper quoted Ian Prenter, the country's team attache, as saying. After showing promise in his home country, Shing was invited to China by a wealthy Chinese businessman to hone his skills and prepare for the Games.

* * * FOR EXPERIENCE

India's basketball team at the Commonwealth Games is playing for the future, both in terms of experience and the fact that the next Games in 2010 would be held in New Delhi. With an average age of 22, the team has just two professional players. Before travelling to Melbourne, it played a series in New Zealand, where its best result was a 10-point defeat.

Captain Trideep Rai said India hopes to score at least one win in Melbourne. "We will get good experience against Australia and Nigeria, they are the best teams in our pool. We are hoping to win against Scotland though," he said.

* * * SIR VIV AT THE GAMES

The legendary West Indian cricketer Sir Vivian Richards is in Melbourne for reasons that have nothing to do with the bat and ball game. The charismatic former captain, it was learnt, is in Melbourne as the ambassador of the Antigua and Barbuda Commonwealth Games team. Apart from Richards, fellow West Indian cricketer Desmond Haynes was also seen travelling down river Yarra.

Love for cricket

Even though the international cricket calendar is too crammed, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) is still optimistic of including cricket in the future. CGF President Michael Fennell told BBC Sport, "We've always wanted cricket in the Games because it is an important sport across the Commonwealth."

"It hasn't been back because the world cricket programme is so packed but we hope that will change," he added.

Cricket made its debut in the 1998 edition of the Games in Kuala Lumpur where South Africa beat Steve Waugh's Australia to win the gold medal. However, the sport was dropped four years later in Manchester.

A Special Correspondent