Overall not a bad show

TINTU LUKA... a silver in the 800m and a gold in the 4x400m relay.-PTI

India finished eighth in the final table with 11 gold, 10 silver and 36 bronze medals at Incheon. By Stan Rayan.

She has been through a lot in life. A world junior champion who saw her gold being taken away after a positive dope test years ago, Seema Punia skipped the 2006 Asian Games with rumours floating around that she had failed another dope test.

Guangzhou came but Seema, known as Seema Antil then, still could not make it to the Asian Games despite winning a bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Only the top two made it to the 2010 Asian Games and Seema again missed the bus.

“I thought of all those years, all the trouble I had been through, when life appeared very lonely with the doping talk going on around me,” said discus thrower Seema, after winning her maiden Asian Games gold in Incheon, clearly looking for redemption.

A few others were looking for redemption too, to start life afresh after the doping ban felled them three years ago. Priyanka Pawar and Mandeep Kaur had been among the relay runners who were caught in the country’s biggest doping scandal in 2011. And when they won the women’s 4x400m gold, along with Tintu Luka and M.R. Poovamma, one could notice the huge relief there too.

Athletics brought five golds at the last Asian Games in Guangzhou, this time there were only two but there are not many worried faces around. India had prepared impressively for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, its athletes had gone on many exposure tours, and when Guangzhou came, they were prepared.

This time, there were no foreign trips for our athletes. And the silver medals that came through men’s discus thrower Vikas Gowda, women’s 800m runner Tintu Luka, talented race walker Khushbir Kaur and hammer thrower Manju Bala are proof that there is still hope.

A shoulder injury suffered during the meet let Vikas down but Tintu will remember Incheon for long. In fact, her race was one of the highs for India at the Games. Looked down for long as somebody who messed up big races, Tintu finally ran the race of her life to take a very valuable silver medal, thereby shattering the many mental hurdles that had been pulling her down for a few years.

One saw that newly-gained confidence in the 4x400m relay where Tintu helped the Indian team from fourth place to the top spot while running the second leg. Mandeep and Poovamma, who ran a fine anchor, finally made the gold look easy.

While all the above performances have brought joy, the jumpers disappointed and very badly too.

Just three months ago, triple jumper Arpinder Singh leaped to the top of the Asian rankings with a superb 17.17m effort that made him a strong contender for the Asian Games gold. But all he could manage at Incheon was 16.41m for fifth place.

But Renjith Maheswary’s 15.67m was shocking. The Athletics Federation of India sent him to Incheon on the argument that Maheswary was a freak jumper who could produce a big jump out of nowhere despite a very disappointing season. But there was only disappointment.

Mayookha Johny and M. A. Prajusha, who had a no-mark against her name in triple jump with a muscle pull after a poor long jump series, were also a big flop.

India finished with 57 medals at Incheon, including 11 golds and 10 silvers, eight medals fewer than Guangzhou and three golds lesser too this time but when one considers the fact that cue sports and chess which provided six medals at Guangzhou were missing at Incheon, it is not a bad show at all.

On the positive side, sports like squash, archery and wrestling offered new hope.

London Olympic bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt ended a 28-year drought in wrestling while winning the gold while the compound team of Abhishek Verma, Sandeep Kumar and Rajat Chauhan brought archery’s first-ever gold at the Asian Games.

There was joy too for Jitu Rai with gold in shooting while former Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra won his first individual medal in Asian Games’ tough field, with the 10m air rifle bronze and then virtually bid goodbye to professional shooting.

And of course, there was Mary Kom who despite all the hurdles she faced on the road to Incheon, returned with gold, the lone yellow for India in boxing. It should have probably been two golds for India in boxing but Sarita Rani was handed out an unfair deal by the judges in the lightweight semifinal which forced her to fight back in anger.

Sarita refused the bronze and with that broke a big controversy which hurt the Games in a big way.

Squash finally broke free with the men’s team taking the gold with Saurav Ghosal and Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu playing a major role while the women’s team, led by Dipika Pallikal and Ananka Alankamony, took a silver.

Sandeep Sejwal took just a bronze in the men’s 50m breaststroke but with world and Olympics champions around, every medal in swimming is worth its weight in gold.

And the Indian kabaddi teams, despite facing strong opposition from countries like Iran and South Korea, fought hard to retain the two golds. India, which finished sixth with 65 medals at Guangzhou, finished eighth in the final table with 11 gold, 10 silver and 36 bronze medals at Incheon.

Overall, it was not a bad Asian Games at all, though with some planning, it could have been a very happy one.