Maintaining the tempo

Proving a point... boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Ramesh Kumar (below) with their bronze medals from the World Championships.-PTI Proving a point... boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Ramesh Kumar (below) with their bronze medals from the World Championships.

In a season of hope, Indian sports had its moments of joy, giving a fair indication of a bright future, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

It may be a gigantic task for any Indian sportsperson to match the deeds of the reigning World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, but Indian sports did very well to maintain the momentum of the Olympic success in Beijing in a season of consolidation.

What was heartening was that the trio of Vijender Singh, Sushil Kumar and Mary Kom, who were jointly bestowed with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, retained the hunger to add more feathers to their caps.

Vijender Singh, who delayed his departure to Milan for the World Boxing Championship so as to personally receive the prestigious award from India’s President Pratibha Patil, snubbed his critics by bagging the bronze medal in the middleweight class.

The 24-year-old from Bhiwani, who had become the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal, added the distinction of becoming the first Indian boxer to win a World Championship medal. Zoram Thanga and V. Devarajan had won World Cup medals, but Vijender Singh, who has a Commonwealth Games silver and an Asian Games bronze to his credit, has taken Indian boxing to a different level altogether.

While wrestler Sushil Kumar, who won the bronze medal at the Beijing Games, failed to repeat his performance at the World Championship — he lost in the decisive bout for the bronze medal — another wrestler Ramesh Kumar kept the Indian flag flying high. The 28-year-old wrestler with a wealth of experience, having won the World junior and sub-junior titles in 2001 and 1997 respectively, fought bravely after trailing 0-3 and won on technical points after finishing 7-7 against Alexandr Burca of Moldova in the fight for the bronze medal at the World Championship.

The effort ended India’s 42-year wait for a medal at the World Championships since Bishamber Singh had won a silver in 1967.

Ramesh also won the Asian championship bronze in Pattaya, Thailand, to add to his silver in 2001 and bronze in 2005.

Winning the World Championship title was not a new experience for the prince of Indian cue sports, Pankaj Advani, as he became the world professional billiards champion in Leeds, England. Pankaj, 24, had become the world professional snooker champion in 2003, and had won the world billiards title in Malta in 2005.

R.V. MOORTHY

Mary Kom celebrated the inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympics by winning the gold at the Asian Indoor Games. For the four-time world champion and mother of twin sons, winning an Asian medal was no big deal. But it was a significant step forward after the 26-year-old had lost to Pinky Jangra of Haryana in the National Championship in Jamshedpur.

Suranjoy Singh of Manipur won the gold medal at the President’s Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan. The 23-year-old Navy man, who had earlier won the Asian Championship gold, was also adjudged the ‘Best Boxer’ of the competition from a field that had competitors from four continents.

Indian sports may not boast of many world champions, but it surely has a clutch of Grand Slam champions in Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza in tennis. Mahesh and Sania kick-started the season by winning the Australian Open mixed doubles title, while Leander went on to win the French Open and the U.S. Open men’s doubles titles with Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic.

Indian tennis also found a new torch-bearer in Somdev Devvarman as he took India to the elite World Group in Davis Cup by winning two singles in the play-off against South Africa in Johannesburg. Of course, Rohan Bopanna played the key role in the victory by clinching his singles on the opening day against the South African No.1 Rik de Voest.

Yuki Bhambri, 17, not only won the Australian Open junior title and became the world No. 1 but also made a winning Davis Cup debut in the World Group play-off against SA. He did very well in the men’s professional circuit as well by winning five singles titles.

The Indian shooters continued to excel on the world stage. And what was refreshing was the emergence of new shooters with promise such as Heena Sidhu, 20, and Vijay Kumar, 24. Indian pistol shooting had won only one World Cup medal all these years — a bronze by Sonia Rai — but Heena and Vijay added a silver medal each in women’s air pistol and men’s rapid fire pistol respectively.

A student of dentistry, Heena won a silver in the World Cup in Beijing apart from a fourth place finish in the World Cup in Munich.

Vijay Kumar won a silver, finishing 0.1 point behind Keith Sanderson of the US in the World Cup in Beijing. It was a brilliant effort as he had conceded a 3-point lead to the eventual gold medallist before the final, following a qualifying score of 581. He followed that with a fourth place finish in the World Cup Finals in Wuxi, China. Pity the Indian pistol shooters had no coach to guide them.

Gagan Narang asserted his class by winning the free rifle 3-position gold in the World Cup in Changwon, apart from the bronze in the air rifle event. He had to be content with a fourth place finish in the 3P event and a sixth place in air rifle in the World Cup Finals. After winning the gold with two world records including a perfect 600 in the World Cup Finals in 2008, Gagan has perhaps opted to keep a low profile, aiming to strike it big in the World Championship in 2010.

Making India proud... Pankaj Advani, who won the World Professional Billiards title in Leeds, England. Suranjoy Singh (below) won the gold medal and was adjudged the ‘Best Boxer’ at the President’s Cup in Azerbaijan.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Tejaswini Sawant won the bronze in the women’s rifle 3-position in Munich with an impressive 588 out of 600 in the qualification. She missed the silver by 0.7 points to the seasoned champion Sonja Pfeilschifter of Germany.

World champion Manavjit Sandhu won the bronze in trap at the World Cup in Minsk. He asserted his class in the Asian Championship in Almaty by beating the former world champion Khaled al Mudhaf of Kuwait for the gold. It was his fourth Asian title, following the ones in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Ronjan Sodhi, a double world record holder at one stage, won the double trap silver at the World Cup in Minsk. He shot a world record-equalling 194, but the Chinese Hu Binyuan beat him with a new world record of 196.

Ronjan also made the World Championship final in San Marino but had to be content with a sixth place finish following a total of 186. He too won the gold in the Asian Championship in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

With world champion Viswanathan Anand keeping a low profile, to conserve himself for the Challenge round in April 2010, the onus was on the youngsters to sustain the healthy image of Indian chess. Soumya Swaminathan won the world junior title to maintain the Indian pattern in the girls section following the titles won by Koneru Humpy (in 2001) and Dronavalli Harika (in 2008).

SANDEEP SAXENA

S. P. Sethuraman won the world under-16 title at the expense of compatriot Vidit Gujarati after the two had tied with equal points.

In the Asian Age group championship, India accounted for seven gold medals through J. Saranya (u-14), Srija Seshadri (u-12), Dharewa Khushi (u-8) in the girls section, Mitrabha Guha (u-8), Dipjayan Ghosh (u-12), Shiven Khosla (u-14) and K. Priyadharshan (u-16) in the open event.

There was more cheer for India in the Asian junior championship in Colombo, as Aswin Jayaram won the open event and Padmini Rout the girls title.

Parimarjan Negi won back-to-back tournaments in Malaysia and Denmark, while Sriram Jha and Kruttika Nadig won the Asian zone titles. S. Arun Prasad and P. Magesh Chandran put up an Indian 1-2 in the Scottish Open.

Caddie turned professional C. Muniyappa hogged the attention by winning the Indian Open as a rank outsider on the designer course at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon. Quite fittingly, the 32-year-old Bangalore golfer was adjudged the ‘Rookie of the Year’ on the Asian Tour.

Otherwise, it was Gaganjeet Bhullar’s year as he won the Indonesian Open and finished runner-up in Brunei, when the big guns like Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal failed to strike it big.

In a season of hope, Indian sports had its moments of joy, giving a fair indication of a bright future.