Taking the eighth place

A. VINOD

AMONG the many images of the 14th Asian Games in Busan which is sure to remain etched in memory for a long time, would be that of a forlorn figure trying to escape the clutches of reality. Indeed, it may never be known whether Sunita Rani was a willing victim of her own greed or was wronged by someone, unless and until she comes out with an open admission. This seems unlikely at least for the present.

Hiromi Hashimoto and Sachimi Iwao celebrate, while Manjinder Kaur and Mary Helen Innocent walk away in dejection after Japan beat India 2-0 for the bronze medal.-AFP

Yet, the fiasco caused by the positive test (she had won the gold in the 1500m and the bronze in the 5000m) cannot be overlooked. For, it harmed India's prestige once again, barely three months after the country's image was sullied, in a similar manner, at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester by weightlifters Krishnan Madasamy and Satheesha Rai.

The overall show of the Indian contingent in Busan should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet by this incident, though the stripping of two of its 36 medals would always remain an embarrassment for the nation.

Quite ironically, it would have been a total disaster for India at Busan but for a string of fine performances from its athletes. And Sunita Rani, herself, would have been in line for a red carpet welcome back home, but for the positive result.

All told, it was a campaign which had its fair quota of success stories and tragic endings; the legion of Indian sports enthusiasts experiencing a high - from the golden accomplishments of K. M. Beenamol, Anju Bobby George, Neelam Jaswant Singh, Saraswati Saha, Bahadur Singh Sagoo, Shiv Kapur, Yasin Merchant and Habib Rafath, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and the kabaddi team - and suffering much at the same time in the wake of the poor show that came from many of the other teams, hockey included.

The failure of the Dilip Tirkey-led hockey side to put it across the host South Korea in the title-round once again showed its inconsistency. For, only a couple of days earlier the team had put up a brilliant show of aesthetic hockey to beat Pakistan in the semifinals. But having played their heart out to conquer Pakistan, the Indian players were a jaded lot for most of the time during the final, wherein the memorable moments were those three goals in the second session before the South Koreans came up with their match-winner. Equally distressing was the last place finish by the women's team which had raised such hopes after winning the Commonwealth Games title.

Shooter Abhinav Bindra and Sailors Farokh Tarapore and Vikas Kapila (below) went without a medal after raising high expectations.-V. SUDERSHAN

The shooters, who had done the bulk of medal shopping in Manchester, were also a huge disappointment, managing just two silvers at the newly-built Changwon international range. While one of the medals came from the women's 10m air-rifle team of Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat, Suma Shirur and Deepali Deshpande, the other was struck by the trap trio of Mansher Singh, Manavjit Singh and Anwer Sultan. Anjali was also distinctly unlucky to miss a medal in the individual final of her pet event - the 10m air rifle - by a narrow 0.01 point.

Abhinav Bindra did make it to the men's 10m air rifle final, but the former world junior champion could finish only a poor seventh. The other hopeful, Jaspal Rana, failed pitiably in both the standard and centre-fire pistol events. And the excuses which he offered - of a painful grip during the standard pistol event and a loose barrel at the time of the centre fire pistol competitions - hardly looked convincing. The rest of the team just added to the numbers.

At the Busan yachting centre, the Indian sailors were quite miffed at the step-motherly treatment meted out to them by the local officials. But for all that, the Indians still finished with their best haul abroad, picking up a silver through Nitin Mongia in the OK Dinghy Open class and bronzes through Ashim Mongia and R. Mahesh in the Enterprise category and Rajesh Chaudhary in the Laser Radial class. Thus, it was a great outing for the Mongia siblings as they emulated the deeds of their father, Surinder Mongia, who had won for India a silver in the Enterprise class at the 1978 Games in Bangkok.

Nitin Mongia still would have every reason to believe that he was cheated. He was clearly in the lead and had looked assured of a gold before a seventh round disqualification - said to have been done by the local officials to favour his South Korean rival - put paid to his chances. The major disappointment here was the poor show which came from Farokh Tarapore and Vikas Kapila in the 420 category, especially as much was expected from the duo who were crowned world champions in Portugal earlier this year.

After a below-par start to their campaign, Tarapore and Kapila had looked good in the second-half of the 11-race series and were in contention for at least a bronze medal before the last and final race was abandoned, again under controversial circumstances, due to shifting winds. Yet, the sailors could take heart that they did extremely well in tough conditions.

By that account, the equestrian team too can take pride for presenting India with a bronze in the team-eventing event. The side which helped the country to the third place finish was made up of Indrajit Lamba, Bhagirath Singh, Rajesh Pattu and Deep Ahlawat. However, in the dressage event, the Indians were hardly impressive before finishing way out of the medal bracket. India had won a bronze from the three-day event at the 1998 Bangkok Games as well.

AFP

In football, India looked to be in contention for a quarterfinal spot before losing to China in its final Group 'C' match. Having started off its campaign with convincing wins over Bangladesh and Turkmenistan, the hopes of India making it to the round of last eight, as one of the best two runners-up was, however, quashed by North Korea and Bahrain. The Indian protest that all the final round group matches were not held simultaneously and this had cost them dearly failed to find favour with the technical committee of the Asian Football Confederation.

Though much was expected from the volleyball squad, despite it being cleared only in the last-minute and that too at no cost to the Government, India could achieve only a fifth place. Beaten out of the reckoning by South Korea and Iran in its initial two matches, India then finished third in its group with wins over Macau and Qatar and remaining unbeaten in the classification matches by scoring easy victories over Pakistan and Chinese Taipei.

The Indians fielded only two players in badminton - P. Gopi Chand and Abhinn Shyam Gupta. While Gupta failed to cross the first hurdle of the men's singles itself, the former all-England champion, Gopi Chand, did enter the quarterfinals before his medal chances were spoilt by a hard-smashing Shon Seung-Mo of South Korea in straight sets.

The Indian action in table tennis too was short-lived as Soumyadeep Roy was eliminated in the second round by Kim Taek-Soo (South Korea) while his colleague, Subhajit Saha, was defeated in the first round itself by Chiang Peng Lung of Chinese Taipei.

Indian captain Baichung Bhutia takes a shot at the Chinese goal. China beat India 2-0 and denied the latter a quarter-final berth in the football event.-AFP

Adding to the string of poor results was the show from the Indian boxers. While Dingko Singh, who had done the country proud at Bangkok four years ago, failed to even get past the first round in the bantamweight category, none of the others in the squad could progress further than the quarterfinals. Dingko was just a pale shadow of his former self as he lost to Choe Phyong-Chol of North Korea on points.

Mohammed Ali Qamar, the Commonwealth Games gold-medallist, looked good against Imran Hafeez of Pakistan in the first round of the lightfly category. But pitted against Harry Tanamore of the Philippines in the quarterfinals, Qamar was unable to rework the magic. He was also a victim of some poor judging before he bowed out of the championship. In the featherweight category, Som Bahadur Pun had an early exit as he lost to China's Chen Tongzhou by a huge margin.

Four other pugilists, apart from Qamar, figured in the quarterfinals, but neither of them could get past their rivals. Ramanand lost to Rusland Mussinov (Kazakhstan), Sanjay Kumar to South Korea's Kim Jung-Joo in the welterweight category, Jitender Kumar to Kazakhstan's Baurzhan Kairmenov in the middleweight class and Varghese Johnson to his Syrian heavyweight rival Naser Alshami. Only Johnson had a chance of winning a medal, but having enjoyed an 8-1 lead at the end of the first round, he frittered away the advantage.

Krygystan's Ulan Nadurbek Ulu pins down India's Shokinder Tomar for the bronze medal in the 60 kg freestyle wrestling event.-AFP

Similarly, three among the four-member Indian squash squad promised much, at least in the initial stages. But having got into the quarterfinals, it was a forgettable affair for Ritwick Bhattacharya, who lost to Malaysia's Mohammed Azlan Iskandar, and Joshna Chinappa and Vaidehi Reddy, who made their exit from the women's singles losing to Malaysia's Sharon Wee Lin and South Korea's Lee Hai-Kyung respectively.

In judo, medal-hope Brojeshwari Devi was eliminated in the first round of the women's 57 kg category, while the two Indians in the men's section also met the same fate. Bhupinder lost to Nur Muhammedov of Turkmenistan by an ippon and Akram Singh was ousted by Iranian Masoud Haji Akhondzadeh. Brojeshwari was beaten by Aiman Kaliyeva of Kazakhstan.

Disappointment was also in store for India from the Gangseo archery field where its standard-bearers had to be satisfied with minor placings in both the team and individual events.

Former all-England champion Gopi Chand made the quarter-finals, but came a cropper there.-V. SUDERSHAN

Though touted as medal-favourites, the Indian body-builders also added to the disappointment as none of them could even get past the qualification round. Just like the karate-do 'stars' who faded away without even giving a proper fight to their opponents.

However, India had a bronze medallist in taekwondo as Surendra Bhandhari came through after a first round defeat to clinch the third place in men's 58 kg flyweight category.

A lone bronze medal was what the country gained through its rowers, Inderpal Singh, Roshan Lal, Jenil Krishnan and P. T. Paulose, who finished third in the men's coxless four-oars team event. Other than that, there seemed to be no justification in having fielded such a big team for this event with none of the rowers coming up anywhere near medal contention. It is true that at least four other sets figured in the finals of their respective events, but none were anywhere near the medallists.

Heavyweight grappler Palwinder Singh Cheema added one more bronze to his collection having won a similar accolade at Manchester. But other than that, India, for all its tradition, was unable to gain anything further from wrestling, though Kamini Devi (women's 48kg category) and Shokinder Tomar (men's 60 kg class) came near to presenting a bronze each to the Indian tally. Kamini, however, lost that chance by going down to Tsogtbazar Enkhjargal of Mongolia, while Tomar was defeated by Kyrgyzstan's Ulan Nadurbek Ulu, also on points.

Shika Tandon set a national record, but still finished eighth in the 100m freestyle swimming final.-AP

The four-member Indian swimming squad also returned empty-handed. The only consolation here was the new National mark set by Shikha Tandon in the 100m freestyle, clocking a fine 58.49s, while finishing eighth and last in the final. Shikha, in the heats, had gone under the one minute-mark over the distance for the first time in her career with a time of 59.19s.

The less said about the weightlifters, the better. It was yet another event in which India had placed high hopes, particularly after the Commonwealth Games. But here again, the team comprising N. Kunjarani Devi, Sanamacha Chanu, Pratima Kumari, Sailaja Pujari and T. M. Muthu failed in the face of stiff opposition from their all-conquering Chinese rivals.

For the record, Kunjarani Devi, who returned from an international meet without a medal for the first time in her career, was placed seventh in the 48kg category, Pratima Kumari fifth in the 63 kg class and Saijala Pujari, also fifth in the 75 kg division. Muthu, the lone male lifter to be cleared, was ninth in the 56kg category while, Chanu, made to lift in the 48 kg class alongside Kunjarani Devi failed to even complete the competition, citing injury.

Whatever the motive might have been, it is still a mystery why the Indians went for a gamble and made Chanu to take part in a lesser weight category. That too after reducing her weight by 10 kg (she had won the Commonwealth Games gold in the 58kg category) almost overnight. A clear indication that the team management was unaware of the prevailing standard in this category was evident when Li Zhuo was given a tough run by Myanmar's Kay Thi Win and Indonesia's Rumbewas Raeme Lisa before the Chinese went on to win the gold on account of her lesser body weight.

But for the snooker doubles gold won by Yasin Merchant and Rafath Habib, the Indians also had to suffer agony when the billiards team and individual golds slipped out of their grasp. Only a silver and a bronze came from billiards and this was no compensation for the two golds that India had won from the same discipline in Bangkok.

Sanamacha Chanu switched events and competed in a lower weight (48 kg) category in women's weightlifting. But she failed in her attempt at snatch.-AP

It is from amongst these ruins that the athletes stood up to keep the tricolour flying, after Shiv Kapur and the pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi ensured a gold each for their country from golf and tennis. The kabaddi team continued its unbeaten reign in the Asian Games, winning a fourth consecutive title. That a superpower like Japan could gain only two golds from the track and field against the strong showing from the Indian and Saudi Arabian athletes was what made the efforts of Beenamol and others all the more heartwarming. But then, it is a pity that this great showing should be overshadowed by the Sunita Rani fiasco.

The only comfort, then, is that India has moved one rung higher than where it was placed at the last Games in Bangkok. Four years ago, it was positioned ninth in the overall medal tally and in Busan, after the two medals won by Sunita Rani were stripped, India was placed eighth with a tally of 10 golds, 12 silvers and 13 bronze medals.

Is this what you would call an improved performance?

INDIA with a tally of 10 golds, 12 silvers and 13 bronzes finished eighth in the 14th Asian Games held in Busan. India had finished ninth with seven golds, 11 silvers and 17 bronzes at Bangkok in 1998. The 10 golds came from athletics (6), golf (1), snooker (1), tennis (1) and kabaddi (1).

The following is the complete list of Indian medal winners at the September 29-October 14 event:

Athletics: Gold: K. M. Beenamol (800m), Anju Bobby George (long jump), Neelam Jaswant Singh (discus throw), Saraswati Saha (200m), Bahadur Singh Sagoo (men's shot put) and the women's 4 x 400m relay quartet (Jincy Philip, Manjeet Kaur, Soma Biswas and K. M. Beenamol). Silver: K. M. Beenamol (400m), A. Madhuri Singh (800m), Bobby Aloysius (high jump), Soma Biswas (heptathlon), K. M. Binu (men's 800m) and the men's 4 x 400m relay quartet (P. Ramachandran, K. J. Manoj Lal, Satbir Singh, Bhupendra Singh). Bronze: A. Madhuri Singh (1500m), J. J. Shobha (heptathlon), Shakti Singh (men's shot put), Anil Kumar (men's discus throw).

Cue-sports: Gold: Yasin Merchant and Habib Rafath (snooker doubles). Silver: Geet Sethi and Alok Kumar (billiards doubles). Bronze: Geet Sethi (billiards singles).

Equestrian: Bronze: Team three-day event (Indrajit Lamba, Bhagirath Singh, Rajesh Pattu, Deep Ahlawat).

Golf: Gold: Shiv Kapur (men's individual event).

Hockey: Silver: Men's team (Deepak Thakur, Dhanraj Pillay, Tejbir Singh, Daljit Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Gagan Ajit Singh, Bimal Lakra, Viren Rasquinha, Ignace Tirkey, Vikram Pillay, Jugraj Singh, Dilip Kumar Tirkey (c), Bharat Singh, Preet Kamal Singh, Dinesh Nayak).

Kabaddi: Gold: Men's team (Shamsher Singh, B. C. Ramesh, Gulia Neer, Ramesh Kumar, B. C. Suresh, Sanjiv Kumar, Manpreet Singh, Sunder Singh, Ram Mehar Singh, Jagdish, K. K. Jagdeesha, Dinesh Kumar).

Rowing:Bronze: Men's four-oars coxless team (Inderpal Singh, Roshan Lal, Jenil Krishnan, P. T. Paulose).

Sailing: Silver: Nitin Mongia (OK Dinghy Open). Bronze: Ashim Mongia and R. Mahesh (Enterprise), Rajesh Chaudhary (Laser Radial).

Shooting: Silver: Women's 10m air-rifle team (Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat, Suma Shirur, Deepali Deshpande), Men's trap team (Mansher Singh, Manavjit Singh, Anwer Sultan).

Taekwondo: Bronze: Surendra Bhandari (flyweight - 58 kg category).

Tennis: Gold: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi (men's doubles). Silver: Mahesh Bhupathi and Manisha Malhotra (mixed doubles). Bronze: Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse (men's doubles), Leander Paes and Sania Mirza (mixed doubles).

Wrestling: Bronze: Palwinder Singh Cheema (men's 120kg freestyle).