Mark of champions

Gagan Narang...making waves at the commonwealth Games in Delhi.-PTI

‘Successful people do what the unsuccessful don't want to do' — that's been the mantra of the champion swimmer from Australia, Leisel Jones. Well, that could be true of other winners too at the Games. By A. Vinod.

The Commonwealth Games, which faced a variety of problems right through its run-up, had a slight change in focus once the athletes took over after the glitzy and glamorous Opening Ceremony. Though the problems remain — and they will continue to bother both the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Organising Committee until the very end of these Games — some athletes managed to rise above the mundane with their exemplary performances that not only won widespread applause but helped to put the focus on the competition.

Here's the Sportstar team's list of athletes who stole the show during the first half of the Games.

Gagan Narang (shooting)

It's no surprise that an Indian tops our list of showstoppers. He has been hitting the headlines the world over for some time now and will do so in the coming years as well. Gagan Narang took CWG 2010 by storm with a superb display of marksmanship at the Karni Singh ranges in Tughlakabad.

A perfect score of 600 in the 10m air rifle followed by a total of 703.6 points in the final 10 rounds meant he had surpassed his own World record of 703.5 points achieved at the Bangkok World Cup two years ago. And significantly, he pulled off a sensational win against his compatriot and Beijing Olympic hero Abhinav Bindra.

Unfortunately, the 27-year-old shooter's effort will not be ratified as a new World record by the International Shooting Federation (ISSF) since the CWG is not among its sanctioned events.

Leisel Jones (swimming)

Many years later if someone were to leaf through the pages of history to take a look at CWG 2010, he or she would definitely not miss the winning deeds of this 25-year-old Australian. The champion swimmer will be remembered as the first athlete to have won two events each in three successive Commonwealth Games — a record that will need some extraordinary effort to be cracked.

Winner of the 100m and 200m breaststroke events, in Manchester (2002) and Melbourne (2006), Jones was virtually unstoppable in both these events at the Dr. S. P. Mukherjee pool as she went on to create history in Delhi. The former World record holder and current Olympic champion could have made it a golden triple had team-mate Leiston Pickett not come in her way in the 50m final. Yet, that rare defeat is unlikely to hurt Jones much.

The Aussie's focus should now be on the 2012 London Olympics as she enters the final stretch of a glittering international career that began in 2000 as a 15-year-old when she was the youngest member of the Australian team at the Sydney Olympics.

‘Successful people do what the unsuccessful don't want to do' — that's been Jones' mantra. Well, who can stop this successful woman from entering the International Swimming Hall of Fame?

Champions from Australia...swimmer Alicia Coutts.-AP

Alicia Coutts (swimming)

She was never expected to make an impact in CWG 2010. Even after the peerless Stephanie Rice pulled out of the Games following a shoulder operation, the pressure was never really on Coutts. In the build-up to the swimming competitions she was clearly overshadowed by two of her younger team-mates, Emily Seebohm and Yolane Kukla.

However, when the competitions began, the 23-year-old from Brisbane surprised everyone by emerging the golden swimmer of the meet. A haul of five gold medals — three in individual events and two in the relays — is what this young lady took home from New Delhi.

A regular in the Australian team since 2008, Coutts simply took the opposition apart. She posted a memorable victory over Seebohm in the 200m individual medley final and then picked up gold medals in the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle.

Omkar Singh (shooting)

A shooter of great calibre, he was in the thick of things, ensuring that there was no let-up in the flow of medals for the host country. His contribution to India's tally so far has been three gold and a silver medal.

The cheerful 26-year-old pistol ace from Madhya Pradesh made a major contribution to India's cause by rallying from the jaws of defeat in the pairs competition of the free event to take the individual gold medal and then crack the code for a golden double in the air pistol events.

Omkar is one of the very few shooters in the country who is always focused on delivering quality performances. For someone who goes for a ‘10' every shot, Omkar has proved his prowess elsewhere too. A silver medallist in the Sydney World Cup this year, he is also the National record holder in air pistol with a score of 587.

Without doubt, Omkar, a protege of Satendra Kumar, will be a key member of the Indian contingent bound for the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in November.

Vijay Kumar (shooting)

A double gold in the rapid fire pistol events helped this 25-year-old from the Indian Army capture the attention of the people in Delhi. In fact, it was an encore from Vijay Kumar who had a similar performance in Melbourne four years ago.

Vijay Kumar's stellar-effort, in more ways than one, was an apt reply to his critics who had doubted his ability to excel in major competitions of late, particularly after his poor showing at the last World Championship in Munich. He began his comeback in February this year when he shot an impressive individual score of 588 in the Commonwealth Championship at the same range in Delhi.

Though Vijay Kumar could compile only 587 now, it still underlined the versatility of the shooter from Mhow, who had won the silver medal in the Beijing World Cup last year with a score of 581.

It is to the advantage of Indian shooting that Vijay Kumar — who finished fourth in his pet event at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha — has been able to extend his expertise to the centre fire pistol in recent times under the tutelage of the Russian coach, Pavel Smirnov.

Kavita Raut (athletics)

As a young girl, Kavita Raut often used to run nearly 20km to fetch water during summer. The 25-year-old from Nashik in Maharashtra gave the country its first athletics medal at the Delhi Games. Her 10,000m bronze made her the first Indian woman to win an individual track medal in Commonwealth Games history. She is also the second Indian to bring back a track medal from the Games, Milkha Singh being the first with his 440 yards gold at the Cardiff Games 52 years ago. It was only the country's 11th athletics medal in the Games history.

African athletes are world leaders in distance running — they won the gold and silver ahead of the Indian — and this makes Kavita's achievement, in front of a roaring crowd of 25,000, all the more creditable. Yet, one should not forget the fact that there was no third Kenyan entry and not all other countries had entered their best. Double medal winner (a silver and bronze) at the last Asian Championships, Kavita, like other middle and long distance runners, had been trained by Belarus coach Nikolai Snesarev.

“Unlike many sports in the Games, athletics has some of the best talent in the world. To get a medal in this sport is thus very tough,” says Snesarev.

He said the hot and humid conditions suited Kavita better than Englishwoman Charlotte Purdue and the Scot, Freya Murray.

Ashish Kumar (gymnastics)

Allahabad is said to be eagerly awaiting the return of its favourite son. Why not? In fact, Ashish Kumar should be feted in every nook and corner of the country, having done India proud in the gymnastics competitions of the CWG. A bronze and a silver on successive days from this 19-year-old put an end to India's medal drought in gymnastics, a sport that calls for tremendous agility and extreme flexibility.

The unprecedented achievements were recorded when Ashish first won the bronze medal in floor exercises and then followed it up with the silver in vault the next day. He was consistent all through the competition, scoring an impressive 14.475 in floor and 15.312 in vault.

Indeed, it is too early to suggest that India is now truly in the international gymnastics map. But Ashish's feat should be lauded, for it could well mark the beginning of good times for the sport in the country.

Brent Hayden (swimming)

Winning the 100m freestyle — in which he always started as the firm favourite — was quite an easy affair for this 27-year-old swimmer. But what stunned the world was Hayden's time of 47.98s that overturned the field which included reigning champion Simon Burnett.

It was the fastest timing of the year and Hayden's performance should now help convince other swimmers that they don't necessarily need the support of the high-end performance-enhancing swim suits — which have been banned by FINA, the world body governing aquatics — to excel.

With the Superman tattoo and all, the three-time winner of the ‘Best Canadian Swimmer of the Year' award, was placed fourth in the same event at the last World Championships in Rome. Incidentally, Hayden had preferred to wear a normal suit as he missed out a podium place by a mere 0.2 seconds.

A rare medal ...Harminder Singh celebrates after winning the bronze in 20km walk.-AP

Harminder Singh (athletics)

A race-walking medal is rare for India at the highest international level. It has never been won by an Indian in the Commonwealth Games. This time there was hope, though. And the man who realised that optimistic projection of the Indian contingent was Harminder Singh, not National record holder Babubhai Panucha. He had the courage to keep pace with the front-walking Australians and it paid off handsomely in the end through a bronze medal that lifted the spirits of the Indian athletics team.

A convert from the 50km to the 20km, or a more all-round walker, Harminder, a 26-year-old Armyman who hails from Patiala, came into prominence in 2008 through his third-place finish in the 50km walk in the National Grand Prix in Patiala, held as qualification trials for Olympics.

A training stint in Podolsk, Russia, recently helped him and the other Indian walkers improve their standards. He clocked a personal best 1:23:28 for his CWG medal, improving upon his mark of 1:24:23 timed in the Russia Cup. “He can be world-class,” says coach Gurdev Singh, former National champion in 20km and 50km walk.

Katulu Ravi Kumar (weightlifting)

He was in such irresistible form that he hacked the field en route to the 69kg gold. Three Games records now stand in the name of Katulu Ravi Kumar, a fan of Naim Suleymangolu, the Pocket Hercules whom every lifter across the world still wants to emulate.

Born into a humble family in Berhampur, the principal town in Southern Orissa, Ravi Kumar started his career as a body-builder. His providential switch to weightlifting was at the advice of his cousin, a move that helped Ravi Kumar serve notice at the junior level.

However, with his family being unable to support his sporting odyssey, Ravi Kumar had to take up a part-time job, that of a videographer, to pursue his passion. That the fire in his belly and the determination to excel has paid rich dividends is an understatement.

Yet, as one looks at the career-graph of the 22-year-old weightlifter, it is quite evident that it is the Army which has helped him reach this far. The recruitment to the Army Sports Institute in Pune in 2007 has been the turning point in the career of Ravi Kumar. Since then, he hasn't looked back.

(With inputs from Kamesh Srinivasan, S. Sabanayakan, Y. B. Sarangi, Stan Rayan and K. P. Mohan)