Services rules the roost

Breaking Nisha's (Millet) record was never in my mind. I just wanted to go out and get as many medals as possible for Delhi, says Richa Mishra-MANOB CHOWDHURY Breaking Nisha's (Millet) record was never in my mind. I just wanted to go out and get as many medals as possible for Delhi, says Richa Mishra

No doubt the organising committee did a wonderful job with the conduct of the National Games, but the lack of experience in organising such a huge event was visible, writes S. Sabanayakan.

Despite several shortcomings, Jharkhand has every reason to be happy about the conduct of the 34th National Games in its three principal towns — Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Dhanbad. The 15-day sporting extravaganza — where competitions were held in 33 disciplines from February 12 to 26 — enabled the state to showcase its ability to organise an event of such a magnitude.

Whether it was the eye-catching Opening Ceremony at the Birsa Munda Stadium or the equally brilliant Closing Ceremony at the same venue a fortnight later, Jharkhand, one of the new Indian states, ought to feel very proud of its achievement.

The best part of the National Games, by far the biggest in its long history, was that it provided Jharkhand with the state-of-the-art infrastructure to carry forward its aspirations of producing top-class sportspersons.

The event was postponed six times due to various reasons (the failure to meet the deadline for completing the construction of facilities was one of them), but things finally fell in place in just two months as the Government of Jharkhand brought in bureaucrats to take charge of the Games.

No doubt the organising committee did a wonderful job with the conduct of the National Games, but the lack of experience in organising such a huge event was visible. It took more than two days to get things off the ground, including the National Games website, without which the information flow was practically negligible.

The large contingent of technical officials from outside the state practically carried the Games on their shoulders, but there was none to rescue the media, which was the worst hit, under the supervision of laggard state government officials.

On the field, the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) was the best on view, winning 70 gold, 50 silver and 42 bronze medals for a grand total of 162 to retain the Raja Bhalendra Singh Trophy for the second successive time. Services topped the medals tally at the last Games in Guwahati (2007) with a count of 142 (59 gold, 46 silver and 37 bronze).

Among the States, Manipur was the best on view with convincing performances in wushu, cycling and fencing. It had a huge haul in these events as the state finished second with 118 medals (48 gold, 37 silver and 33 bronze).

Ever since this Northeastern state hosted the National Games in 1999, it has been making remarkable strides in many disciplines thanks to the infrastructure available there. Besides, the commitment of the officials from the state has also helped to a large extent.

Haryana finished a creditable third riding on a spectacular showing by its wrestlers who earned the state 14 gold medals. It had a tally of 115 medals (42 gold, 33 silver and 40 bronze). Haryana also topped in boxing where it shared 14 gold medals with the host.

Jharkhand's fifth-place finish (33 gold, 26 silver and 37 bronze medals) was truly an achievement, but how much satisfaction it would derive from this showing was highly debatable. In a number of disciplines, Jharkhand benefited from ‘imports', who were promised handsome prize money of Rs. 7 lakh for gold, Rs. 5 lakh for silver and Rs. 3 lakh for bronze by the State Chief Minister, Arjun Munda, during the Closing Ceremony.

Originally, the Jharkhand Government had announced that only those athletes born and bred in the state would be eligible for the prize money.

Maharashtra's fourth-place finish was mainly shaped by the 13 gold medals the state won in swimming. With a haul of 41 gold, 44 silver and 47 bronze medals, Maharashtra had won medals in almost all the disciplines giving it a good launching pad for consolidating the gains in future Games.

Delhi pipped Kerala, the sporting power from south, with 32-26-41. Kerala's haul was 30-29-28, gaining mainly from track and field, water sport and cycling.

No one dominated the Games like Delhi's swimmer Richa Mishra did. In an awesome display, the 27-year-old won a whopping 16 medals from 17 starts that included 11 gold, four silver and one bronze.

Virdhawal Khade…eight gold medals, all in Games-record times, two silver and two bronze. He was also adjudged the Best Male Athlete of the National Games.-M. MOORTHY

Richa came close to breaking the peerless Nisha Millet's feat of 11 gold medals (Imphal National Games, 1999) but, as fate would have it, could only tie the record.

“Breaking Nisha's record was never in my mind,” said Richa. “I just wanted to go out and get as many medals as possible for Delhi.”

Richa was adjudged the best female athlete of the Games for her superlative performance.

Indian swimming's most recognisable face, Virdhawal Khade, dominated the show in the men's section, grabbing eight gold medals, all in Games-record times. Besides he also won two silver and two bronze medals to help Maharashtra rule the pool.

Khade, coming back after a month's break following his bronze medal-winning performance in the Guangzhou Asian Games, said: “With the National Games performance we begin the preparation for the London Olympics in 2012.”

Khade was named the Best Male Athlete of the Games.

There were many who rose to prominence in the swimming competition. Gagan A. P. of Karnataka was one such swimmer. The lanky long distance specialist won six gold and two silver medals.

Despite Richa's dominant show in the pool, a 12-year-old swimmer from Tamil Nadu, Jayaveena, caught the eye. If groomed well this breaststroke specialist should serve Indian swimming for many years.

The system of choosing the best athlete of the Games on the basis of the number of medals won should be changed, for it will never allow a deserving sportsperson from other disciplines to win the award. Swimming offers an individual the chance to compete in a maximum of 17 events. No other discipline can match this. This means, others who excel in say athletics, shooting or cycling would never be able to win the coveted award.

It is time the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) devises a suitable method that will give every athlete an equal opportunity to go for the greatest honour.

Speaking of multi-medal winners, no one can ignore the feat of the two outstanding athletes, women's cyclist Chabungbam Rameshori Devi of Manipur and rifle shooter Sanjeev Rajput of Services. The duo had a haul of six medals (five gold and a silver) each.

There were two other sportspersons who had a five-gold haul — Simimol of Kerala in women's kayaking and the 17-year-old gymnast, Dipa Karmakar of Tripura, who won four individual apparatus events and topped it with an overall champion's medal.

The Games also sprang some heart-wrenching moments. The National champion and Commonwealth Games double gold medallist, Deepika Kumari, was beaten to the silver in recurve by an unknown archer from Assam, Prativa Boro. This was one of the many shocking results of the Games.

The gold medal triumph of archer Muni Ram Tirkey of Bengal over the best of talent in the men's section was another shocker. Asian Games silver medallist Tarundeep Rai, CWG gold medallist Rahul Banerjee and World No. 3 Jayanta Talukdar all bit the dust early, leaving the field for veterans and up-and-coming archers to dominate.

The shock defeats of Preeja Sreedharan — Asian Games gold medallist in 10,000m and silver medallist in 5000m — in the women's 10,000m and 5,000m to Kavita Raut of Maharashtra; Joseph G. Abraham's loss in the 400m hurdles to Kuldev Singh of Punjab and CWG gold winner and National record holder Renjith Maheshwari's third-place finish, behind Arpinder Singh (Punjab) and Amarjeet Singh (Jharkhand) were the most talked about points in athletics.

The announcement that rowing, which was completely dominated by Services, at the Maithon Dam would not be counted for any records because the course was short in length and the huge absenteeism in weightlifting in Jamshedpur owing to very strict dope tests took the sheen of these disciplines.

In another downside of the Games, the country's four celebrated boxers, Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar and Dinesh Kumar, and their coach Jai Bhagwan, were forced to quit the event after they were told to appear at a trial to decide who will represent Haryana.

The factionalism in Haryana boxing was responsible for the embarrassment to the four boxers who were not keen to participate in the Games. But then, as sources put it, they were forced by the rival group, controlled by the top cop of the state, to proceed to the Steel City.

Sanjeev Rajput…dominated shooting with six medals, five of which were gold.-MANOB CHOWDHURY

The sudden demise of the chef-de-mission of Kerala, Suresh Babu, was the saddest moment of the Games. The Olympian and Asian Games gold medallist died of liver cirrhosis on February 19.

Violence raised its ugly head twice during the Games, and on both occasions the fault was with the local athletes and their supporters. The first clash broke out at the Games Village where some sportspersons belonging to the host clashed with some of the Services' athletes. Men's sprint champion Shameer Mon, who was at the scene trying to pacify some of his team-mates, was wrongly indicted for the violence and the drunken brawl.

In another shameful incident, the Andhra Pradesh players were manhandled by the local people during a netball game.

The biggest faux pas happened towards the end of the Games when disciplines such as tennis and table tennis ended. The organisers failed to have the victory ceremony on time because they ran out of medals!

In a most embarrassing moment during the Closing Ceremony, Kerala, the host of the 35th edition, was handed the flag of the Olympic Council of Asia and not the Indian Olympic Association flag.

In all 444 gold medals were distributed in 33 disciplines.