Gold Coast encouraging, Asian Games will be tough

By Veturi Srivatsa

For India, the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games is remembered more for weightlifter Subrata Paul testing positive for a banned drug than 32 medals the country won. The entire officialdom was there more to canvass for African support to host the Games in India.

It took 20 years for India to host the Games which will again be remembered for real or imaginary scandals involving the top officials of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

Over the years the drug record of the Indian athletes has been terrible, mostly the weightlifters causing the embarrassment. Just when everyone was rejoicing the wonderful performances at Gold Coast, two athletes were sent home for violating the no needle policy of the Commonwealth Games Federation, though there was no doping involved.

Walker Irfan Kolothum Thodi and triple jumper A.V. Rakesh Babu had to leave the Games Village in disgrace.

Leave the unsavoury part and see what the stats tell us. India’s medal haul at the just-concluded Gold Coast Games is their third highest behind the 2010 New Delhi home Games and the one at Manchester in 2002.

India returned with 26 gold medals, more than the 20 silver and bronze each, adding up to a grand tally of 66, three less than the Manchester bag (33 gold, 22 bronze and 17 silver), never mind they were far far behind in third position, Australia, topping with 198, and England ending up with 166.

Actually India have performed much better than they did at Manchester whereas the figures reveal only a part of the excellent showing of the athletes.

India won 30 gold at Manchester, but then weihgtlifting used to fetch three gold medals in each weight category — snatch, cleand and jerk and total while shooting doesn’t have the pairs events. Delhi’s is a different case with athletes winning in a lot more disiciplines.

Everyone may have put their money on a Saina Nehwal-Pusarla Venkata Sindhu badminton final, but not many may have thought that the team gold will come their way for the first time. Saina seems to be at her best playing Sindhu while the latter appears to choke. Still, the odds would have been even.

Sindhu not playing in the team event and her semifinal against an injured Canadian Michelle Li, who was going through the motions for most part of the match, was not the best of preparation for her. All the same, Sania played like a champion.

Saina told the NDTV Hyderabad bureau chief that their Guru, Pullela Gopichand, told both Sindhu and her that they should treat the match just as as any other game and after the final they are friends.

Few would have backed India to win the table tennis team gold, let alone the tall, lanky Manika Batra winning the singles individual gold, that too beating World No.4 Feng Tianwei from Singapore.

Manika beat her opponent not once but twice, the first victory paving the way for India to win the team gold. In fact, she won a medal in every event she took part.

The newly-crowned World No.1 Kidambi Srikanth coud have done a Manika if he had beaten Lee Chong Wei in the singles final after his victory over the Malaysian gave India a crucial point in winning the team gold, though the mixed doubles win by Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa was as important. Srikanth was right on top to win in the team event in straight games, but Lee hit back after losing the first game in the singles gold medal match.

Another performance worth taking note from the badminton courts is the rise of Satwiksairaj and Chirag Shetty as a doubles pair to take the silver after a gripping final.

In table tennis, three gold medals, two silver and three bronze are a big bonanza, while Dipika Pallikal Karthik won two silver medals in the doubles.

The gold rush was started by the weightlifters who had an impressive haul of five gold, two silver and two bronze, while the wrestlers did better with five gold, three silver and four bronze, with Sushil Kumar proving that he can make a comeback any day and still ewalk away with the gold easily. Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik and Babita Phogat had to settle for silver when they were expected to get gold.

The boxers did well to win three gold, three silver and three bronze medals. Mary Kom was the only Indian woman to win a medal, gold at that. Like Sushil Kumar, Mary has proved that she is still good to get a shot at another Olympic medal in Tokyo two years from now.

The shooters expectedly lead India’s medal standings. Anish Bhanwala, 15, and Manu Bhaker, 16, are the two youngest gold medal winners, while Tejaswini Sawant returned to the podium to take the gold after 12 years after winning it in Melbourne in 2006. Their kitty is seven gold, four silver and five bronze.

Another yuoungster who created some sensation is Neeraj Chopra by becoming only the fourth Indian athlete to win the gold from track and field, his spat with the Athletics Federation (AFI) chief Adille Sumariwala over his training under a German coach Werner Daniels and not the AFI’s javelin head coach Uwe Hohn, both with top credentials.

All in all, the spread of medals from disciplines is highly encouraging three months ahead of the Asian Games, though the competition in Jakarta will be a lot tougher in most of the disciplines in which the Indians did so well at Gold Coast.

In this euphoria no one seems to have bothered about the performance of the hockey team!

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)

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