From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.42 :: Oct. 21, 2010
The first three of the five freestyle wrestling medals came from women — Geeta, Alka Tomar and Anita — and that kept the gold flowing.
After being in the news for many wrong reasons, the Commonwealth Games finally brought some cheers to Indian sports fans who take pride in the ability and capability of our sportspersons.
If the grand Opening Ceremony left an indelible mark on guests and cynics alike and earned appreciation from the world media, it was time for the Indian sportspersons to make the most of the opportunity to compete at home in a multi-discipline Games.
Those in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) predicted a haul of 100 medals — twice the number India won in Melbourne in 2006. The projected figure appeared a bit far-fetched if one remembers that India is not a force to reckon with in athletics, swimming and gymnastics — the three disciplines which collectively account for a huge percentage of medals on offer.
Whether 100 medals for the host was a realistic assessment or not, the sportspersons, who had trained hard for over two years for these Games, got down to accomplish the job on hand.
Much was expected of the shooters, wrestlers, weightlifters and archers in the first few days and most of them lived up to the expectations.
Ashish's feat in gymnastics — a silver and bronze — should be seen as a path-breaking effort.
After six days of competition, it was indeed creditable that India was holding on to the second position, behind the indomitable Australia.
A haul of 24 gold, 17 silver and 17 bronze medals kept India just ahead of England that was threatening to take over the second spot after closing the gap with a tally of 21 gold medals out of a total of 79.
India's tally came mainly from shooting and wrestling. This did not come as a surprise since India has traditionally done well at the Commonwealth-level competitions in these two disciplines.
Out of 24 gold medals, 12 came from shooters, the wrestlers added nine, weightlifters contributed two and archers, one.
Gagan Narang, who opened India's gold account in the company of Abhinav Bindra, collected his fourth gold medal, including those in pairs. Narang and Bindra also gave India its only 1-2 finish, in the men's 10m Air Rifle event. Here, Narang shot an incredible 600/600 on way to the gold, ahead of Bindra. He also set a Games record in the 50m rifle 3-position to win his fourth gold.
A focused Narang not only won but returned some incredible scores, too. There was little doubt over Narang's ability to shoot gold after gold at this level of competition. But during the week, Narang's consistency stood out.
Kavita Raut with her 10000m bronze medal. Never, after Milkha Singh claimed the 440 yards title in the Empire Games in 1958, had an Indian athlete won a track medal in CWG. Kavita became the first Indian runner to win a medal at the Delhi Games.
Omkar Singh and Vijay Kumar were the other shooters who caught the eye, and claimed three gold medals each. Overall, Indian shooters consistently made it to the podium which was more or less on expected lines.
With many stars pulling out of the Games, there was a growing impression that it would boost the host's tally of medals. The pullouts did not impact the field in shooting and wrestling, the two events where India dominated as expected.
From the wrestling arena, it was indeed heartening to find India grabbing medals from the Greco-Roman category, and not just freestyle. It should be also mentioned here at the same time that at the Commonwealth level wrestling is not of high standard.
Traditionally, India's medals come from freestyle but in these Games, the success of Rajender Kumar (55-kg), Ravinder Singh (60-kg), Sanjay (74-kg) and Anil Kumar (96-kg) in Greco-Roman added to the joy.
The first three of the five freestyle wrestling medals came from women —Geeta, Alka Tomar and Anita — and that kept the gold flowing.
As most women wrestlers admitted, the gold came easier than they had expected.
The weightlifters once again opened India's medal-tally but not with the expected gold. Soniya Chanu faltered at the post and settled for a silver medal in the 48-kg class. Similarly, Sukhen Dey (56-kg) added another silver medal to the tally. The golden embroidery was eventually provided by the duo of Yumnam Renu Bala Chanu (58-kg) and K. Ravi Kumar (69-kg).
But it must be remembered that the country's weightlifters have not enjoyed pleasant times in the days leading to the Games. There were doubts over their participation after the governing body of weightlifting had imposed a heavy fine on the Indian federation. After several anxious weeks, the way was cleared for the home lifters to take part in the Games. Therefore, the inconsistent performances were not unexpected.
In a scenario, where India has been harvesting gold, the lesser-medals are bound to be seen as less significant. But the first-ever gymnastics bronze medal won by Ashish Kumar in floor exercises, should be considered very special. A day later, Ashish went on to claim an unexpected silver medal in vault to make it even better.
Though the gymnastics camp has been optimistic of a medal, not many had this confidence, considering India's dismal history in the sport. Ashish's feat should be seen as a path-breaking effort.
The women's recurve team — Dola Banerjee, Deepika Kumari and Bombayala Devi — snatched the gold from England after trailing at the end of the penultimate round.
Much in the same vein, more than the expected gold in the women's recurve category, the silver claimed by the women's compound team carries more significance. India is among the leading nations in recurve but has never done so well in compound.
The men's team, too, grabbed a bronze while the women upstaged South Africa in the semifinal before settling for an unexpected silver medal.
Also commendable was the way the women's recurve team snatched the gold from England after trailing at the end of the penultimate round.
The trio of Dola Banerjee, Bombayala Devi and Deepika Kumari displayed great grit and held their nerves when it really mattered. Not many would be able to appreciate the silver medal won by the women's table tennis team. Though this feat was lost in the background of the men's team's surprising loss to England in the semifinals, the trio of K. Shamini, Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das deserve all the praise for bouncing back after the defeat in the league to New Zealand.
Victories over England and Australia saw the team through to the final where Singapore was not to be denied the gold.
In disciplines like cycling, netball, lawn bowls and Rugby Sevens, India did not do any good to its reputation. Tennis brought more disappointments than joy while swimmers, not expected to be among the medals, broke a few barriers.
Virdhawal Khade became the first Indian to swim in the final of any event at the Games. He finished sixth in the 50m butterfly, a day after anchoring India to the sixth place in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
On the final day, Indian men and women quartets also made the medal race in the 4x100m medley relay. With the standard of swimming quite high at these Games, a few Indian participants can look back and reflect on moments of personal glory.
In fact, para swimmer Prashanta Kumar became the first Indian to win a bronze in the Games, in 50m freestyle.
In squash, Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa exited as expected after running into eventual medallists in their respective singles but the Indian shuttlers played to their seeding and collected a silver behind the mighty Malaysians.
P. Kashyap, ranked 32nd in the world, showed signs of being the next big Indian name on the circuit after upsetting world number 16 England's Rajiv Ouseph and testing World number one Lee Chong Wei in successive matches. Not surprisingly, World number three Saina Nehwal kept a clean slate.
Even as the men's table tennis team disappointed by losing to England in the semifinals, there was some cheer from the athletics arena.
Kavita Raut picked up a bronze medal in the 10,000m which was also the country's 11th athletics medal in the history of the Games. The next day walker Harminder Singh added another bronze to the Indian athletics team's collection.
Never, after Milkha Singh claimed the 440 yards title in the Empire Games in 1958, had an Indian athlete won a track medal in CWG. Kavita became the first Indian runner to win a medal at the Games. Her feat was thus of great significance even if it was achieved in a modest field of eight runners that did not have all the top Commonwealth runners.
The conditions were ideal for the Indians and that mattered a lot in the end as coach Nikolai Snesarev pointed out. “We didn't go abroad to train. It was important that we stayed at home and got used to the conditions. We had some good high altitude training in Wellington (Nilgiris) that also helped a lot,” said the Belarus coach.
Kavita's medal compensated for the disappointment of triple-jumper Mayookha Johny not winning a medal as was forecast by many. In the event it was M. A. Prajusha who registered a National record of 13.72 but still went without a medal. The performances of the much-touted shot putters, Om Prakash Singh and Saurabh Vij were disappointing.
Even as our sportspersons succeeded in making the country sit up and take notice of their medal-winning performances, it was indeed sad to witness empty stands at several venues, though swimming, gymnastics and athletics attracted fairly big crowds. In hockey, there were near capacity crowds whenever India figured in the fixtures.
Though the organisers made tall claims of good ticket sales before the Games, there were complaints of the non-availability of tickets. The Commonwealth Games Federation rightly expressed its concern over the poor crowd response and the international media too, was not far behind in highlighting the “missing spectators.”
The fact also remained that international as well as Indian media were solely concentrating on sport that had little attraction for the Indian crowds — like netball, lawn bowling and some matches in hockey where there was no Indian interest — to show empty stands. Had they gone to Nehru Stadium on Saturday (October 9), they would have been able to show more than 45,000 spectators.
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