Off to a good start

Though the judokas and weightlifters come up with medal-winning performances, shooters prove to be India’s greatest strength in the first week of the competitions in Glasgow. By A. Vinod.

It has been an unusually harsh summer in this part of the world with temperatures rising to unexpected levels and even touching 27 degrees C. The Glaswegians swear they have never seen such hot days, not at least for the better part of the last decade.

The Glaswegians are also experiencing the heat of the competitions at the 20th Commonwealth Games, and they have no complaints on this front.

July 23: The day that most of Glasgow and Scotland had been waiting for since the city won the vote against Abuja (Nigeria) to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games almost seven years ago, finally arrives. The buzz about the event is more than what one would normally expect in a country where people, despite their devotion and love for sport, tend to keep their emotions to themselves. They greet all connected with the Games in a cordial manner and with kind words.

The compact Celtic Park is packed to the brim almost an hour after the gates are thrown open. The Opening Ceremony has a few surprises in store. Scottish Terriers are used to lead the teams in, instead of the usual placard bearers and clothes draped on their coats bear the names of the teams walking behind them.

However, what touches the heart is the concern that the organisers show for the children across Commonwealth nations — they turn the Opening Ceremony into a fund-raiser for charity. Right through the programme, messages from UNICEF ambassadors, including cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, highlighting the difficulties faced by children in different countries and regions, are flashed on the massive LED screen placed on the eastern part of the Park. The people are then told that they have the opportunity to contribute for the welfare of these tiny tots.

This marked departure from the tradition of the Opening Ceremony of a Games — the second novelty of the evening — draws tremendous response, and we are told that people across the United Kingdom have dug deep into their pockets to contribute GBP 3.1 million within an hour.

The contributions continue to pour in.

Queen Elizabeth, the monarch of the United Kingdom, is made to wait for more than three minutes by the Commonwealth Games Federation President, Prince Imran (Malaysia), as he struggles to open the Queen’s Relay Baton and retrieve the message inside. (The Baton travelled 1,90,000 kilometres across the 71 participating nations and returned to the Park for the Opening Ceremony.) Chris Hoy, the legendary British cyclist, comes to Prince Imran’s help. The Queen, on her part, remains least perturbed and patiently waits until the message is finally handed to her. She then declares the Games open.

July 24: The talk of the town, undoubtedly, is about the impressive songs, dances and fireworks at the Opening Ceremony. The focus then quickly shifts to the action underway at the various venues. England’s Jodie Thompson is the first gold medal winner of this edition of the Games. Jodie is cheered lustily, as she finishes the women’s triathlon in a time of 1:58.56s, beating back her opponents.

It also turns out to be a day of siblings. Brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee add to the English pride by finishing 1-2 in the men’s triathlon. In the evening, the focus is on the Scottish sisters, Kimberley and Louise Renicks, who win a gold medal each in the 48 kg and 52 kg categories respectively in judo. The discipline is back in the Commonwealth Games after a gap of 12 years.

Kimberley’s gold medal win brings about a sense of despair in the Indian camp, which was hoping to win the gold through L. Shushila Devi. However, the performances of Shushila and Navjot Chana (men’s 60 kg), who won silver medals, and bronze medal winner Kalpana Thoudam (women’s 52 kg) is sure to give Indian judo a fillip.

Weightlifters Sanjita Chanu and Mirabai Chanu lift the spirits in the Indian camp, as they demolish the field in the women’s 48 kg category to bag the gold and silver medals. With Sukhen Dey and Malli Ganesh too sparkling in the men’s 56 kg category, winning the gold and bronze medals respectively, the Indian contingent is simply overjoyed.

July 25: Gavin Hastings, the Head of the Games Village, is clearly unable to withstand the criticism of Raj Singh, the head of the Indian contingent, about the lack of facilities at the Village.

“I think the atmosphere at the Village has been wonderful ever since it opened its doors to the athletes and officials. Everyone seems to be happy with what has been on offer and just everyone seems to be walking around with a smile,” says Hastings.

Mike Hooper, the CGF CEO, chips in: “We are very pleased with the Village. I have not received any complaint so far and I think it is inappropriate for people to draw any comparisons to New Delhi. The Village here has provided all the facilities in accordance with our directions.”

The Welsh delegation seems to be in disarray as news trickles in confirming that one of its key athletes, the European 400m hurdles champion, Rhys Williams, has withdrawn from the Games after failing a dope test. This is the second blow to Wales in the space of a few days following the withdrawal of the 800m runner, Gareth Warburton, who too tested positive.

Before the day is out, the Welsh suffer another humiliation as their biggest hope in boxing, World No. 1 Andrew Selby, loses his opening bout in the men’s 52 kg after his gum shield falls off four times and he is issued a warning.

In contrast, India has a satisfactory day, as Abhinav Bindra keeps his calm and composure to win the men’s 10m air rifle gold medal and young Malaika Goel claims the silver medal in the women’s air pistol.

The early ouster of favourite Heena Sidhu from the women’s air pistol after a poor three rounds comes as a shocker for India though.

July 26: The International Weightlifting Federation President, Ajan Tamas, recalls an old incident about how Queen Elizabeth breached protocol during the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton by staying back to watch the entire competition and shake hands with the winners of the day when she was scheduled to be at the event for only 15 minutes.

The biggest draw of the day is none other than the supersonic Usain Bolt, who confirms his participation in the Games. He goes on to add that he always wanted to be a part of the Commonwealth Movement. Having been grounded by injuries to his left foot and hamstring, this is the first appearance for Bolt in a major event this year. However, he is participating only in the 400m relay.

As the press conference progresses, the superstar is asked some absurd questions — his opinion on the ongoing strife in Gaza; whether he had ever worn a Scottish kilt and what will be the outcome of the September 18 referendum on Scotland’s independence. Bolt remains patient and ends the 30-minute long conference shaking hands and cracking jokes with the journalists and organisers.

Australia — the champion side at the Games through the last six editions — after a less than impressive start is finally on top of the medals table, getting past the early leader, England. And the Indian camp too is gung-ho as shooters Apurvi Chandela and Rahi Sarnobat bag gold medals in the women’s 10m air rifle and 25m pistol, even as Ayonika Paul and Anisa Sayyed chip in with silver medals in the two events. Prakash Nanjappa earns a silver in the men’s 10m air pistol and judoka Rajwinder Kaur helps the country to round off the competitions in that discipline with a bronze medal in the +78 kg category.