Need to be a lot more realistic

ATHENS, was declared a `no fly zone' well ahead of the scheduled start for security reasons.

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

P. T. Paulose, who booked a berth in the single sculls, has trained hard for the big event. — Pic. K. GAJENDRAN-

ATHENS, was declared a `no fly zone' well ahead of the scheduled start for security reasons. May be, it would be prudent to say not to let the Indian hopes take wings in some of the disciplines like judo, swimming, rowing, table tennis and boxing, where the participation by the Indians should be just for the record unless someone pulls off something really incredible.

Sharath Kamal, who has been in good form, may give a surprise performance. -- Pic. AP-

Well, even before the event kicked off, medals were at stake back home for those indulging in dirty politics. The coach who trained the lone Indian qualifier P. T. Paulose, the 26-year-old rower who booked a berth in the single sculls category, Romanian Nikolae Vulpe was shown the door at the last minute after a two-year coaching stint with the Indian team.

In fact, he didn't even take a break in the last 16 months and was staying with the rowers in the Youth Hostel (Hyderabad) on the banks of the Hussain Sagar Lake. Well, another Indian coach's name was cleared who was not really associated with the regular training schedule. So, one can easily imagine the frame of mind of the genial Paulose, who took to the sport only after he joined the Services in 1998. "It is great to be there in Olympics. Honestly, it will be too much to expect a medal from me. But, having trained in Hyderabad's Hussain Sagar Lake for close to two years, I was told the Athens weather will be somewhat similar and that should help me a bit," says the 2002 National Games double-gold medallist. And, his coach Vulpe is more pragmatic saying that if his ward finishes in the top 15 that should be a big bonus for it would mean Paulose will be the best in Asia. May be, if only the Romanian were to be there, things might look somewhat different, if not dramatic, for the Kerala rower. But, that is Indian sports for you where professional training is rarely welcome.

False start

Mouma Das' game has improved and she hopes to give it her best shot. -- Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

If Paulose had a virtual false start even before the Games, the four boxers should look to the Almighty to get a favourable draw to squeeze past the preliminary rounds. Experts don't rule out the chances of a surprise but certainly expect the boxers — Akhil Kumar (fly wt), Divakar Prasad (bantam wt), Vijender Prasad (lt welter wt) and Jitender Kumar (light heavy wt) — to come up with an outstanding performance under the most trying conditions and competition. "It is a different sport altogether out there. An error in a fraction of a second can prove to be very costly," says Emani Chiranjeevi, SAI coach.

It is not as if these four pugilists had very little to bank on before embarking for Athens. For Akhil was the Afro-Asian Games gold medallist besides being a quarter-finalist in the world championship, Divakar had a long training stint in Cuba and even won a gold in an invitational meet there recently. Vijender Prasad, a product of the talent hunt, had special training in Ukraine and Cuba besides being the National champion. Jitender is another Afro-Asian Games gold medallist apart from winning the silver in the Commonwealth Games.

What is being stressed is that the exposure in international events should hold them in good stead if only luck smiles on them on the day it matters most. "Technically, they are very good but what is being eagerly awaited is how they respond to the ambience of an Olympic competition," says K. R. Steven, a senior technical official of Boxing Federation, who saw all these pugilists from close quarters.

Luck factor

Shikha Tandon is the lone Indian swimmer to enter for the 50m and 100m freestyle events. — Pic. K. GOPINATHAN-

Interestingly, he points out that the reason why India won quite a few medals in the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad is the huge crowd, lustily cheering them. "In boxing more than in any sport, this helps. And, this can be a major handicap for there will be very few to cheer the Indians," it is said. But, it is unanimously accepted that this Indian boxing contingent is really well-prepared for the mega event thanks to the return of Cuban coach B. I. Fernandez. Whether they punch for a medal or in the air only time will tell.

In table tennis, Sharath Kamal, recently crowned Commonwealth champion (the first Indian ever to win it) and Mouma Das, don't talk big about their prospects. Hope is a key motivator for them. The 20-year-old Mouma Das, ranked No.165, feels that her Chinese coach Yin Wei effected pretty good improvement in her game which is dominated by her fierce forehand. "If I cross the first round, then I will do well," she said. A one-liner which should reflect her own prediction in the Athens competition.

Armed with video clippings of the best in the business, she has prepared a diary identifying her grey areas in the game and worked on them. No doubt, she feels that the exposure in the four international events before the Games may be useful. On the other hand, 23-year-old Sharath of IOC feels that the change in approach to his game — going all out from the word go to sorting out the opponents — should be of great help to him.

Apparently, he has banked a lot on the final coaching stint with his idol Kamlesh Mehta in Delhi before leaving for the Games. He believes that he is much quicker at the ball now and good enough for a `surprise performance'. The SAF Games gold medallist is ranked World No.171 and feels his maiden Olympics should be a pretty decent one. "Certainly, I will not be found wanting in giving off my best. It is a dream come true for any sportsperson to represent the country in Olympics," says Sharath who hopes to benefit from his French coach Hubert Hustache. How far this paddler, whose game wavers from brilliant to brittle quite often, advances in the Games is anybody's guess.

Frank appeal

The boxers -- Jitender Kumar (left), Vijender and Akhil Kumar fancy their chances on a favourable draw. -- Pic. PTI-

In a sport where the Indians are far behind by any standard, 19-year-old Shikha Tandon, the lone Indian swimmer to qualify in the 50m and 100m freestyle events, frankly appeals not to expect too much from her in the Athens edition. "My realistic target is a medal in the 2008 Beijing Games," she points out. Not surprising considering that this silver medallist in the Afro-Asian Games and also the first Indian to record a sub-27 second performance in the 50m in the last senior Nationals (26.61 sec before the Afro-Asian Games), is only looking at Olympics as some sort of a learning experience to pick some tips by watching the big guns splash to glory in the pool.

So is the case with the lone judoka — Akram Saha — from India in Olympics. There is no doubt he will be up against a field which in all probability give him a new definition of what fitness levels, speed and coordination mean at this level. Like most of the Indians, he should be content in being part of Olympics aura rather than produce anything special. After all, it is not his fault but a system which produced only a couple of individual medallists in Olympics history.