Narjit is India’s hero

Narjit Singh followed his coach Louis Enrique’s strategy of mixing the Cuban and American styles which undid his German opponent, Marcel Schneider. “I was asked to feint and not to attack till the final round when I went all out as advised by my coach,” said the Indian.-P. V. SIVAKUMAR

Podharadam Narjit Singh was not among the favourites to win a medal, but the gutsy boxer brought cheer to the Indian camp by vanquishing the hard-punching German, Marcel Schneider, for the gold medal. V. V. Subrahmanyam reports.

The fourth World Military Games was all about precision and timing. Podharadam Narjit Singh displayed exactly that in the 54kg boxing final against German Marcel Schneider to achieve what no other Indian could — an individual gold medal at these Games.

It was a golden finish which had the crowd at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium on its feet, applauding a truly memorable feat of a sportsman who was nowhere in the limelight before the Games started.

Narjit, aged 23, was in full cry in the final and he lived up to the expectations of his coach, Louis Enrique of Cuba, who has been training the Indian for three years at the Army Institute of Sports in Pune, Maharashtra. The fact that Narjit rose to the occasion and was crowned the champion in the 54kg category spoke volumes of his grit and determination.

In the final against Schneider, caution was Narjit’s watch-word. According to him, it was Louis Enrique’s strategy of mixing the Cuban and American styles that undid the hard-punching German. “I was asked to feint and not to attack till the final round when I went all out as advised by my coach,” said a delighted Narjit after his bout.

It was not just Narjit who was praying for victory on the eve of his bout. The entire Armed Forces in the vicinity of Hyderabad appeared to be behind him as they turned up in large numbers to cheer him. And the gutsy boxer brought joy to them with a 12-8 victory over Schneider.

Before the Games started, Enrique predicted that India would win at least five medals. “I am expecting at least five medals from these Games. The boys are looking really good after the six-month rigorous Military Games-specific training,” said the coach.

The Cuban was spot on as the Indian boxers finished with one gold and four bronze medals — the biggest haul by the host in any discipline at the Games. “I just cannot believe this. I never ever dreamt of winning the gold in a competition of this magnitude,” remarked Narjit, a silver medallist at the King’s Cup Championship in Thailand.

Apart from Narjit, the other medal winners — all bronze — were Harikishan Beliwal (51kg), Garikna Satyaraju (64kg), D. Bhagyarajan (69kg) and Mohinder Thapa (81kg).

Chatholi Hamza celebrates with a collegue after winning the bronze medal in the 1500 metres.-P. V. SIVAKUMAR

Harikishan’s elder brother, Hemanand Beliwal was the lone medallist at the last World Military Games in Catania (Italy) with a boxing bronze. “I am pleased that I could repeat my brother’s feat. It could have been better if I had improved upon his performance. But still a medal-winning show was truly satisfying for me,” said Harikishan.

India’s next best performance was in athletics where it won two medals. Jeetender Singh (400m hurdles) and Chatholi Hamza (1500m) bagged a bronze medal each. Jeetender Singh of Signals, Jabalpur, underwent strenuous training and was determined to win a medal in Hyderabad. “My next target is to win a medal in the SAF Games,” he said.

Chatholi Hamza was involved in a superb 1500m race which saw the top three runners put in their best effort. The race was dominated by Kenyans Gideon Gathimba and Shadrack Korir. They finished first and second respectively, followed by Hamza of the Madras Regimental Centre. “I was happy that I was able to uphold the honour of the Indian army,” he said emotionally.

In shooting, the Indians fell below expectations as they managed only a silver medal in the 25m centre fire pistol team event. India, comprising C. K. Choudhary, Vijay Kumar, Pemba Tamang and Hambir Singh, registered a score of 1744, behind gold medallist China (1758). Russia took the bronze with a score of 1740.

In volleyball, India raised the expectations after a remarkable win over Brazil in the preliminary league, but failed to keep up the momentum despite qualifying for the round-robin super league.

Yang Li waves to the crowd after breaking the world record in the 50m backstroke.-PTI

After two successive defeats, India scored a creditable 25-21, 25-21, 25-21 win over Qatar in its crucial final league match to claim the bronze medal. Captain Shijas Mohammad, with support from P. K. Dinesh and Sharath Kumar, was instrumental in India’s victory.

In football, defending champion Egpyt, which retained the title, ended India’s challenge with a solitary goal win in the quarterfinal.

The highlight of the Games was the world record set by the Chinese swimmer Yang Li in the 50m backstroke. She clocked 28.09sec to eclipse the record of Leila Vaziri of the United States (28.16, 2007 FINA World Championship).

Yang Li, 24, was the cynosure as she achieved the feat after an element of drama. Despite finishing first in the semifinals, her name did not figure in the starting list for the final. This sent the Chinese team management into a tizzy before the mistake was corrected.

Yang Li then capped the evening with a splendid finish, leaving her challengers, including her countrywoman Xu Tianlongozi (29.05) and Russia’s Zueva Anastasia (29.07) far behind. The world record, however, has to be ratified by FINA, the organisers announced.